Monday, December 31, 2007
But one of the reflection areas that often gets overlooked is theological reflection. We say things at Christmas time that we say we believe, but do we understand them? There is the virgin birth, the miracle star, angelic appearances and the most important one, the incarnation, Emmanuel.
Our English word, incarnation, comes from the same Greek root that gives us carnival, carnivore and chili con carne. It means flesh, or meat. When we affirm our faith in the incarnation of Christ, we are saying that we believe that God literally became a human. The implications of this are mind-boggling and not to be forgotten or taken for granted. God, who lives in splendor, chose, of his own volition, to forsake all that glory, and become human. Philippians 2.5-11 gives us a wonderful summary picture of what this meant for God.
This also has significance when we consider the life and ministry of Jesus while he was on earth. We believe that Jesus was completely human, having voluntarily relinquished his claims to the throne of God. But at the same time, he was still God. He had the option at any time to re-claim his rightful position as the Almighty. Thankfully for us, he never did. This thought helps us and confuses us as we consider that Jesus often prayed. If he is God, who does he pray to? If he knows what will happen, why does he pray?
Finally, we need to consider the incarnation as it pertains to the crucifixion of Jesus. The law of the Old Testament makes it clear that sin requires a perfect sacrifice. Being perfect, and being God, allowed Jesus to become that sacrifice. He was able to take all our sins on himself because he was (and is) the holy and perfect God of the universe.
Jesus is God. God is with us. Emmanuel.
Saturday, December 22, 2007
Now when we come to this realization, we grow unhappy. There are problems with this of course. It is impossible for us to ever be truly happy if we equate happiness with possessions or acquisitions. As soon as we acquire all the things that we are told will make us happy, there is a whole new series of advertisements for new gadgets, clothes and soaps. It is a never-ending cycle of chase the happiness carrot.
And so now, a few days before Christmas, the marketing has reached a fever pitch. And now we all realize, somewhat unhappily, that we will not receive every gift that we want. We cannot afford every item that will make us happy. What should we do? Can we ever be happy? Will we ever attain personal fulfillment?
There is a passage in the Bible that summarizes what is the best approach to this difficulty. Philippians 4.11 says, "I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances." This is not a promise that we will get everything we want. It does not even mean that the one who follows God will have no problems in life. No, the significance here is much greater than both of thoughts.
When we find our life in Christ, we do not need to rely on temporal things to be happy or fulfilled. We can, and should be, content with the blessings of God and the things that he has given us. There can be no better Christmas than to be content with the things of God.
Merry Christmas to you!
Everything is wrong. I mean everything!
First, there is this pregnancy thing.
I’m worried about my baby.
I don’t understand what is happening to me.
This is a lot of trouble.
How do I know that was an angel
who told me about the baby?
How can I be sure this is the son of God?
Wouldn’t God have thought of a better way to do this?
Now there is this registration thing.
I don’t understand it at all.
Joseph says it’s another way to collect taxes.
I know they can’t get much more from us.
And the trip. O, the trip!?!
I am in no shape to travel, but everyone must go.
Will this hurt the baby?
Where will we stay when we get there?
What if the baby comes while we are away from home?
How will I care for him?
What will the baby wear?
How will I clean him?
How? How? Why?
It’s not fair!
Friday, December 21, 2007
To begin with, the commercialization of Christmas is a sort of positive sign. After all, millions of people in America and around the world celebrate a holy day. Even if they do not recognize the spiritual nature of the holiday, they cannot deny origins of the Christmas observance. In addition, the traditions associated with Christmas all have their genesis in the story of Christianity.
- Santa Claus is not only a character based on a Christian saint, Nicholas, he is also a sign of the desire of men and women everywhere to know God, the Father of us all and the ultimate Gift-giver.
- Giving gifts reminds us of the gift given by God on that first Christmas day. Not only that, giving and receiving gifts reflects the graciousness of God and the fact that we are all given the desire to love and share with others.
- The emphasis on lights and stars remind us of the darkness of the world around us and our desire to bring light into the darkness.
- Family celebrations have become synonymous with celebrating Christmas. This reflects the gathering of the Holy family so long ago.
Be cautious with your Christmas celebration this year. Be careful to not allow it to become commercial, superficial or secular. Make certain that Christ permeates every part of your time of rejoicing. But above all, celebrate! Rejoice! Give! Love!
Why is it now, God? Why is it from you?
When my life is just beginning, this signals its end;
No more time for myself, no more time for friends.
I’m still too young to be so old,
My years too few, my story not told.
And now that the spring time of my life is through,
I can do nothing but bring my grief to you.
What am I to think? What am I to do?
Why is it now, God? Why is it from you?
I am not ready, the problems must wait.
The cares of motherhood are much too great.
What do I know about caring for a son?
I am a child myself, I am too young.
I cannot do it, I cannot cope.
Where will I get help? Where will I get hope?
What am I to think? What am I to do?
Why is it now, God? Why is it from you?
I have kept myself pure all of my days,
I have always been righteous in all my ways.
But people will think things, they always do.
People will talk, regardless of the truth.
I cannot survive amid the gossip and the talk.
I need your help. Lead me as I walk.
Thursday, December 20, 2007
My Favorite Sacred Carols-
- Joy to the World
- Hark! The Herald Angels Sing
- Bring a Torch, Jeanette Isabella
- Il est ne
- Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus
- Once in Royal David's City
- O Come, All Ye Faithful
- Labor of Love
- Messiah (all, or any part)
My Favorite Secular Christmas Songs-
- Christmastime is Here
- I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas
- Run, Run Rudolph
- Blue Christmas
- Feliz Navidad
- You're a Mean One, Mr Grinch
- Happy Christmas (War is Over)
- Same Old Lang Syne
- White Christmas
- Please Come Home for Christmas
Wednesday, December 19, 2007
But, I do have some pretty serious problems with the current celebration of Christmas.
- Commercialization. From the evening news to our family celebrations, we are encouraged to spend too much money and to commercialize Christmas. If we do not spend enough money on gifts, we will certainly end up in economic recession. Not only stores and malls, but also restaurants, hotels, movies and more have become dependent on holiday spending. Heaven forbid.
- Gift giving. We are told over and over again that giving is the purpose for Christmas. I give gifts. I love giving gifts to the people that I love, but I never want gifting to be the reason behind my celebration, or anyone else's for that matter.
- Secularization. Too many people around us have no idea why we take the day off work on December 25. From our greetings of 'Happy Holidays' to Winter programs at our public schools, we are thoroughly secularizing one of the most holy of holidays. The nativity story and the redemption that followed must never be forgotten.
- Selfishness and Insensitivity. I do not think that I even need to expound on this one. Avarice and greed are the top two guests at many Christmas parties. What did I get? Why didn't I get more? They could afford more than that. And more thoughts and comments just like these characterize the attitudes of a whole lot of people.
I am just a girl.
I giggle, I blush, I gossip with my friends.
I am ordinary.
I don’t have money, or standing-
My family is not special.
I am from Nazareth,
a normal town.
Who am I?
Why did you choose me?
And now there is Joseph.
He is a nice man, but he is so old.
He is not glamorous, but he is good.
He is not wealthy, but he can provide.
I do not understand the future-
I do not know why I am promised to him-
But I will trust you.
Now there is a promise-
not an ordinary promise, but a prophecy.
I have doubts, but I trust you.
Do your work in my life.
Mold me into the shape that you desire.
Use me for your purposes.
Tuesday, December 18, 2007
My basketball team had a bully for a coach, but he was on the right track. He played fair. His players played hard. They gave the game their all. They won a lot more than they lost. The players were smart and articulate. They studied hard and attended class. If they did not, they were benched, or worse. Best of all, my team did not cheat.
But then the world changed. It must have. That is the only explanation for the cataclysm that followed. Baseball players began hitting home runs in bunches. Way more than ever before. It was unprecedented. Records were falling right and left. One season two very likable players hit 69 and 66 home runs, both breaking the previous record of 61. What fun! But then too soon, another player, one that was not so likable, hit even more. 73 home runs in one year. Something had to be wrong. We all thought it. And then we began to question all the records, all the players, everything.
The coach of my basketball team lost his job. He was replaced with a barely competent basketball man. Then he was replaced by a fine coach, but get this, a cheater. Heaven forbid! We do not allow cheaters on our team. We are against cheaters. We do not cheat. Until now.
And the baseball players? Last week we learned that they cheat too. They are all cheaters. Dozens of our heroes have taken drugs so that they can grow bigger, run faster and hit the ball farther. How can I be a sports fan when they all cheat?
But what have we learned from all this? Can we grow from this experience?
All people are bad! This is a foundational doctrine of Christianity. Theologically we call it Original Sin. This doctrine believes that every person has the tendency, even the desire, to sin. We all want to do what is wrong. If that seems difficult for you, think about this:
- Look out for number 1.
- Watch your back.
- You only go around once, so go for the gusto.
- You deserve a break today.
- I'm too sexy for my shirt.
All of these are expressions of the practical side of Original Sin. Every human is selfish. We are born selfish. We are always looking out for our own interests and desires. I believe that sin equals selfishness. That is, every sin that you or I commit, we commit simply because we are selfish. This is why Jesus taught the value of looking out for your neighbor and loving others. It is hard to be selfish when I am loving someone else.
What is happening in sports- and baseball and basketball are no different than all other competitive sports- is a manifestation of the reality of sin. So, do we condemn these players and coaches, or do we pray for them?
I dig in my pocket till it hurts.
I give to my neighbor to bring him cheer,
But I do it only 30 days a year.
There is no way to give love a season,
We cannot say that Christmas is the season
God's gift did not end at Christmas time.
His gift still gives and it is yours and mine
He gave us His wisdom, His thoughts and His prayers,
And He did not quit giving when He died.
He is giving and loving, and He still cares;
Even after Christmas He's still there.
Monday, December 17, 2007
- My favorites of 2007 do not necessarily have to be from 2007. It just means that I have experienced them for the first time in 2007.
- My favorites do not mean that they are the best of the year. I am not a critic. I am a fan. Therefore, the entries that make my favorites list move me somehow.
- To the best of my ability, I do not allow my favorites to be influenced by anyone else. Critical acclaim and popular status mean nothing to me if I do not enjoy the product.
Next week you will get to read my list of favorite albums of 2007. For now, you get the 10 Favorite Books of 2007 (in no particular order).
- Miz Lil and the Chronicles of Grace, Walt Wangerin
- Sex God, Rob Bell
- O Shepherd, Where Art Thou, Calvin Miller
- Slaughterhouse 5, Kurt Vonnegut
- Chazown, Craig Groeschel
- Into the Wild, Jon Krakauer
- If It Could Happen Here, Jeff Patton
- Lisey’s Story, Stephen King
- The Invention of Hugo Cabret, Brian Selznick
- The Thirteenth Tale, Diane Setterfield
Angels in the outfield
Angels on my shoulder
Angels with dirty faces
Angels, second class,
That we forget the message of the angel of the Lord;
Peace on earth
Glory to God
A child is born.
We hear so much about spirit...
The spirit of Christmas
The spirit of giving
The spirit of the season
The spirits of Christmases past, present and future,
That we might forget the original Spirit-
The Spirit that came upon Mary
The Spirit that caused Elizabeth's child to leap
The Spirit that empowers us.
Christmas is to remember the message-
Not the angel.
It is to receive the Spirit-
Not some spirits.
Sunday, December 16, 2007
Frost on the window
Icicles on the barn
Wading through slush in the driveway
There was a chill in the air
Filled with the scents of pine
And freshly baked cookies
I remember lights at Christmas
Glistening with the colors of the rainbow
Brightening trees, homes, shrubs,
Reflecting in eyeglasses, windows
and frozen ponds.
I remember crying at Christmas
Crying with joy at family reunions
Thrilling at wonderful gifts and
Crying in sorrow for family members
Who are not here this year
Sorrow for children with nothing to celebrate
Sorrow for families who do not know how to celebrate
Sorrow for families who do not know to celebrate
I remember Christmas.
Saturday, December 15, 2007
But there is a furor over The Golden Compass that I would like to comment on. Many religious people are encouraging other religious people to boycott this film. The story goes that the author of The Golden Compass book, Phillip Pullman, is an atheist. His intent in writing the book (two sequels followed forming the His Dark Materials trilogy) was to discredit God. I do believe that Pullman is an atheist. However, I am not convinced that his intention is to create doubt about the existence of God.
One of the biggest controversies surrounds the idea that each individual has a personal demon. People are encouraged to get in touch with this demon, to learn about him/her and to have a relationship. On the surface, at least, this does seem very harmful. However, I would advise caution in jumping to critical conclusions.
- First of all, take care to not get yourself, or anyone else into spiritual hot water, but do your own research. If it is important to know the information, read the book. Go see the movie. But be sure that you do it with a critical eye and a skeptical mind.
- Secondly, be careful not to boycott or forbid people from seeing this movie. Reverse psychology is a powerful principle. I always want that thing that I am not supposed to have.
- Third, do not make it a bigger issue than it needs to be. Do not call attention to something that many people are not interested in talking about. If the people you know do not anticipate a danger, it could be that they are not in danger. Your initiation of the conversation will only bring the controversy to light.
- Fourth, remember that it is a movie. It is based on a fiction book. This means that it is being marketed as not being true. Most people are smart enough to know that polar bears do not talk, wear clothes or wage war. Do not give the story more consideration than it deserves.
The grimy slush as it melts on the street.
The pelting of tiny, frozen bombs of sleet.
The sudden, sliding loss of footing, landing on my seat.
The gratuitous good will of the people I greet.
The artificial concern of everyone I meet.
The life-fog that comes from my body's heat.
The rock-frozen ground that signals summer's retreat.
The naked trees that are proof of fall's defeat.
The sun that mocks me while giving no heat.
The freezing, frozen drops of rain that become a solid sheet.
The still, silent air where the cold is indiscreet.
The dagger-like icicles that the children eat.
The snowball- now a weapon, but later a treat.
The snowfall- so massive, universal and complete;
Yet snowflakes- so delicate, so unique, so neat.
Faith for the warmth of spring is no small feat.
A hope for color against colorless life competes.
This is winter.
Friday, December 14, 2007
But as our lives grow ever more complicated, we find that we merely move from one crisis to another. There is never a break. There are problems all around us and they all seem to need our attention. At the very least, we feel as though an informed person should have an opinion on each global and national crisis. And those crises are in addition to the mundane personal ones that no one else knows or cares about. At times we are tempted to believe that life was better for our grandparents, or for the Amish. Simpler lives definitely seem better.
There are two things to say about that. First of all, simpler probably is better and healthier for everyone involved. There is less stress and competition when we are not consumed with the latest technology, communication or fad. When we learn to be content with less, we will be even more content all the time.
Secondly, although it seems trite, there is a solution to our problems. Jesus is the Anti-Crisis. He promised in the Bible to provide comfort, encouragement and strength to his followers. He also promised never to leave those who follow him. We never need to face any problem without his power and stability.
I do not want you to get the idea that Jesus will make your problems go away. There was never an indication by Jesus that his followers would be exempt from troubles. In fact, just the opposite seems to be true. He promised that people would hate, ridicule and persecute us because of our faith in him. Jesus did not promise wealth, health, prosperity or safety for those who followed him. He said that there would always be poor people among us. And although he definitely was concerned with healing the sick, there is no reason to believe that we will never be ill.
I believe that I will still have problems, even though I know Jesus. However, I know that I have a friend who will go through every problem with me. I do not have to be too discouraged. I will not be lonely. When my crises come, I know the Anti-Crisis.
Unattractive, unmarried, unclean?
Homely, homeless, humble?
What do they want?
Why are they here?
We did not ask them to come.
He, the common laborer-
He has nothing to offer her or her unborn child,
He has little to offer our town.
She, the pregnant teen-ager-
She got what she deserves
She should have been smarter, or at least more careful.
They will, no doubt, be a burden.
Society will have to support them.
And they will be ungrateful.
They will bring an undesirable crowd
There will be loud visitors late into the night.
There will be more unemployed riff-raff.
Where will it all end?
There will be a baby...
A child who is innocent,
Who has done nothing wrong,
Who needs someone to care.
I will care and love and give;
For the baby's sake.
For my sake.
Thursday, December 13, 2007
I forget how long.
But all that comes to me now
Is an Easter song.
About a man who died for our sins;
about a God who enters in;
about a Temple veil that rends;
about a man who did no wrong.
In a week or more it will be Christmas,
I forget how long.
Before we get to the grouping, let me further say that not everyone fits into every category, and there are some fortunate individuals who fit into none of them. These lucky souls are the ones who are extremely lucky, blessed beyond measure, or wearing rose-colored glasses so that they cannot see the reality of the world around them and their own situation.
- There are harassed people. The harassed people are those who have set a standard that they cannot meet. They are trying to live up to expectations that are beyond their grasp. These people have over-extended themselves and now are in trouble because of it. Harassed people are also those who are subject to discrimination and prejudice of all sorts. They are too young, too old, too disabled, too black, too female, too foreign... Perhaps you feel like you are harassed.
- There are helpless people. The helpless people are truly victims in our society. (This is distinctly different than those who choose to be victimized by their circumstances.) These are men and women who work hard, or would work hard. The cannot get a break from community, family, government or church. (These are not people who take advantage or "play the system.") Perhaps you feel like you are helpless.
- There are hopeless people. Hopeless people have just given up. They think that there is no point in trying anymore. There is no way out of whatever situation they are in. No one cares. There is nothing I can do. What's the use? Perhaps you feel like you are hopeless.
- There are hurting people. People who are hurting are those who have experienced one or more of the other problems. They might be afflicted with personal issues, health problems, relationship difficulties, job loss or food insecurity. These people are so discouraged that hopelessness would be an improvement for them. Perhaps you feel like you are hurting.
At Christmas all of our problems are aggravated. Our loneliness is emphasized as all those around us celebrate with family and friends. Our poverty is accentuated as our culture teaches us to want and to give more and more. We are reminded of our hunger as large family meals are prepared at all the neighbors'.
But no matter how harassed and helpless, not matter how hopeless and hurting, Jesus loves you and God has not forgotten you.
Wednesday, December 12, 2007
I do not believe that this list is somehow inspired or necessary for all Christians, or Christian leaders. I think that God works in each believer to manifest himself in their lives in personal, unique and specific ways. So, this should not be a standard that anyone uses to measure their own life purposes or values, but rather, an encouragement to evaluate and develop their own.
- Leadership Development- This is becoming more and more true in my life. Every thing I do and think is about recruiting, training and sending leaders.
- Fellowship Evangelism- I believe that all Christians are called to do the work of evangelism. I further believe that the most effective way to do it in our current culture is through fun. Spending time with people, sharing your life with them and caring about them is the best way to make disciples.
- Authentic Relationships- This is very much related to leadership development and fellowship evangelism. Relationships with all people must be real. It is not enough to know people for the sake of evangelism or leadership. You must know individuals and care about them individually.
- Radical Creativity- Just because something has always worked does not mean that we should continue doing it. If a thing isn't broken it may not need to be fixed, but we might be able to make it work better. It is always open season for new ideas and new ways of doing things.
Tuesday, December 11, 2007
It seems to me that all of these actions and attitudes are motivated by selfishness. Everyone is trying to look out for him or herself. We want to get what we can get. The spirit of altruism seems to be dead after all. So let me put your mind at ease. I do not want anything. I am not asking you to give or serve or help. I am only asking you one thing: Would you please have a great holiday season? Let God’s great gift bless you this Christmas and into the New Year. May you live in the fullness of God’s grace and in the peace of his Son, Jesus Christ.
- My favorites of 2007 do not necessarily have to be from 2007. It just means that I have to experience them for the first time in 2007.
- My favorites do not mean that they are the best of the year. I am not a critic. I am a fan. Therefore, the entries that make my favorites list move me somehow.
- To the best of my ability, I do not allow my favorites to be influenced by anyone else. Critical acclaim and popular status mean nothing to me if I do not enjoy the product.
In the coming weeks you will get to read my lists of favorite books and albums of 2007. For now, you get the 10 Favorite Movies of 2007 (in no particular order).
- Stranger Than Fiction.
- All the King's Men.
- Notes on a Scandal.
- The Departed.
- The Last King of Scotland.
- Blazing Saddles.
- Across the Universe.
I have written on this blog about several of these films. If you are interested you can check those reviews.
Saturday, December 8, 2007
But the plan seemed to backfire in a big way. Word got out that Christmas was out and Holidays were in and that was all she wrote. People who have not attended church in years were offended at this affront to one of the most sacred days to Christians. After all, the name Christmas celebrates the mass for the birth of the Christ.
And now, one year on, we seem to have a little of the same problem. The clerks in the stores that I have visited seem to be suffering from the fallout of Christmas 2006. They hesitate about wishing me a Merry Christmas. They are a little worried that they will offend me, or at the very least, get in trouble with a supervisor. How sad. Even if they wanted to be jolly, they cannot.
So, for the next few weeks, I am implementing a plan that will hopefully bring cheer and good tidings of great joy to everyone I encounter (whether I am merry or not). My goal is to wish every bell ringer, every stock person, every greeter, every cashier, every package wrapper, every manager and supervisor a Merry Christmas. I am not going to wait for someone else to greet me first. I will take the initiative and wish others well.
I am going to smile until me cheeks hurt. I will not be called a Grinch or a Scrooge. I will be a smiling mirth-spreader. I will not be offended when someone, no matter who they are, does not wish me 'Merry Christmas,' but I will be offended if I do not. I am going to be "Merry Christmas Boy."
One more thing that is a little related: What is with the greeters at Wal-Mart? At the Wal-Mart where I do business, the grouchy greeters outnumber the friendly ones 10 to one. This too is very sad. Most of the greeters do not even look up except to make sure that you are not shop-lifting, or trying to get away with something. They have a very boring job, and it shows. Most of the time my shopping experience is already ruined before I even get into the store.
My goal of being Merry Christmas Boy will apply to the greeters in every store as well. I am going to smile and be friendly regardless of the attitude of the greeter. I will wish them Merry Christmas until December 25 and then I will continue to greet them in the most friendly way that I can muster. I will bring joy to people as much as I can.
Friday, December 7, 2007
At its core, The Chumscrubber (the movie) is about suburban teens struggling with drugs, peer pressure and their parents. It is about parents who want to live their own lives and have their children take care of themselves. It is bleak to say the least, but entertaining and possibly informative.
The cast of The Chumbscrubber is impressive. Glenn Close, Ralph Fiennes, Allison Janney, John Heard, Carrie-Ann Moss all take turns as the variously interested parents. Close is grieving the loss to suicide of her son. Janney is trying to keep her vitamin supplement business going. Fiennes is trying to hold on to his sanity while maintaining his position as mayor. Heard spends the movie as the sheriff trying to get to the bottom of the pseudo-kidnapping of his his pre-adolescent son.
The Chumscrubber is entertaining, but it is not fun. It is always informative, but it is not pleasant. Although the marquee stars of the film are all in the adult roles, the movie is really about the teens. They are dealing with issues of acceptance, drug use and abuse, ethics and more.
Jamie Bell plays Dean, a teen-age slacker who uses drugs out of boredom. Dean realizes too late that his dealer, who commits suicide at the beginning of the movie, is also his best friend. Because he does not know that the dealer is his friend, he is surprised when the other drug-users turn to Dean to replenish their supply of pills. These drug-users devise a plan to kidnap Dean's younger brother, but inadvertently swipe the wrong Charlie.
Meanwhile, the adults are all in their own world of weddings, funerals, business, gossip. They are too self-absorbed to see that anything is amiss. How sad.
It is easy to look at this film, or any of the dozens that are like it, and deny its assertions. Adults are really not like this. Parents are more active in their children's lives. That may be true, but it does not diminish the dangers that are brought up. All of these scenarios are not only possible, they are true. These stories are played out in suburbs all across America every day.
So, what can we learn? Pay attention. Look around you. See the pain and hurt that is taking place everywhere. This week another young man took a gun and killed some innocent people, presumably because he felt alienated and alone. He had been fired from his job and lost his girlfriend. It would not have been hard for someone to befriend him. It would not have been hard for someone to make a difference for him, and for the others who were lost this week. Who can you make a difference for?
Tuesday, December 4, 2007
It is based in the ministry pattern and strategies of no less than Jesus himself. I have tried to adopt this way of developing leaders into my own work, in and outside the church. The mission trips that I have led have been built on these principles.
- Potential leaders need to experience the ministry to which they are being called. They should know the ministry from the inside. It is best if a ministry leader is first a ministry recipient.
- From those who are involved in the ministry, leaders are recruited. Potential leaders should be men and women (and young people) who exhibit the fruit of the ministry and passion for it.
- Leaders must be trained for ministry. Basic discipleship, leadership principles and fellowship basics need to be foundational to this sort of training.
- This step is the most crucial. New leaders must be given the opportunity to lead while still under your supervision. They need to be given tasks to complete, studies to lead, program to oversee, etc. All of this should be completed while above the safety net of your supervision.
- Finally, these new leaders need to be given assignments for ministry and deployed to do the work. The most frustrating thing is to be excited about a project, prepared and trained to complete, and then to be left with no responsibilities. Put your people to work.
Monday, December 3, 2007
- Intelligence- This does not mean that they necessarily have to excel on aptitude or intelligence tests, but rather that they are proficient and equipped in their particular area to do the work, planning and thinking that are required.
- Quick thinking- The ability to decisively think on one's feet is more important than ever, and getting more important every year.
- Global thinking- Leaders of the future (and today's leaders) must be able to see and think beyond their own personal context. The whole world needs to be considered. Always be looking for the big picture.
- Good communications- Expressing your views in effective ways and by appropriate means is more important than ever, but being able to hear and understand the views of others is also very important.
- Articulate- The ability to express your thoughts is crucial.
- Sense of humor- Humor will be able to diffuse tense situations and make communicating easier in many settings.
- Flexible- There may be more than one way to accomplish a task. Not only that, you may learn that the task should not be accomplished. Flexibility, along with a willingness to be corrected, is a necessity for today's leader.
- Integrity- Although it may not be very popular, the morals of a leader are very important. Always be committed to doing the right thing. Always.
- Empathy- Good and effective leaders will be filled with concern and emotion for those that they lead.
- Self-awareness- Be sure that you know your strengths, weaknesses and beliefs. A good leader will know what s/he is capable of, and what s/he should not even think about.
Here are some beginning points to help you develop these traits in yourself and in others.
- Encourage them to develop their knowledge in their areas of interest.
- Reward curiosity.
- Encourage adventure and create opportunities for many different experiences.
- Support and encourage critical thinking.
- Expose them to various opinions and ways of thinking.
- Encourage and support risk-taking.
- Remind them of their uniqueness and what makes them unique.
- Encourage productive and substantive debate.
- Build courage and self-esteem.
- Model integrity and character.
- Allow them to be tolerant of diversity.
- Create and expose them to good role models.
This information is adapted from the article, Raising Up Leaders, by Charrise McCrorey in the October 2007 issue of Michiana Family Magazine.
Sunday, December 2, 2007
One problem with this is that these complainers are unhappy with everything. They are aggravated that the church is too hot, but as soon as the air conditioning comes on they are chilled. The Sound system is turned up too loud one Sunday and the next week they cannot hear anything. You get the picture. The same people have opposite complaints.
Well, here are the official complaints from the afore-mentioned article (by the way, I have heard all of these in my churches and from some of the same people).
- The service is too traditional, or it is too modern. Worship style (music) has become the most controversial issue for local churches in the USA. The truth is that you cannot please everyone with your music selections or instrumental accompaniment. Some will be offended if it is too casual, but if the service is too formal it is not like "home."
- The sermon is too theological, or it is not theological enough. There is no way to win this argument. You are either preaching down to people, or preaching over their heads. My compromise has been to make sure that everyone understands most of what I say. I sometimes do not get to say everything I want to, but I want everyone to get what I say.
- The people are too cold, or they are too cliquish. We want the church to feel like a family, but we do not want people to put us on the spot. We want to feel warm and fuzzy, but we don't want to share anything too personal.
My father told me years ago that the only way I would ever find a perfect church was to start my own. The problem would be when someone joined my perfect church they would probably mess everything up.
The church is the body of Christ, the family of God. It is not perfect, but it is becoming what he wants it to be.
Saturday, December 1, 2007
But what is at least as troubling as the profaning of our culture, is the acceptance of it but the rest of us. We look the other way. We shake our heads in disgust. But, we don't do or say anything. It is time that we started speaking up when we are offended. Take a stand when someone uses inappropriate language in your home, workplace or school. Begin to make a difference.
Think about the children around you. They cannot attend a movie where that language is used, but it is on the bumper of the car in front of you at the traffic light. How do you explain "f*** you" to an eight year old?
Here's an idea: Do not laugh the next time someone tells a joke with offensive language. Encourage your local businesses to not sell the decals, signs, shirts and other items with obscene language. Then, begin to improve your vocabulary and encourage others to improve theirs. There are much better words, more colorful and cultured, to say the same sorts of things.
I don't want to be a redneck, if being a redneck means that coarse and profane talk become funny to me. I don't want to live in a redneck society if it means that I am constantly, and without warning, subjected to profanity of any type.
I can't change the whole world, but I can do something about my part of it.
Thursday, November 29, 2007
- These are my favorite movies. I do not believe that these are the best movies for Christmas. I simply mean that these are the movies that bring pleasure to me and my family each year.
- This is not an exhaustive list of Christmas movies. If you want that list try http://www.auburn.edu/~vestmon/christmas_movie.html, or http://www.christiananswers.net/christmas/movies-christmas.html. I have a hunch that these are not complete lists either, but between them you should get a lot of movie ideas. I have not seen every Christmas movie ever made. Therefore, my favorites are limited by my frame of reference.
- I have avoided listing some films that may in other ways be very entertaining, even excellent, but violate what I think of as the Christmas spirit. For that reason, movies like Die Hard, Bad Santa, and Scrooged are all excluded.
- Unfortunately, the list is skewed to more recent movie releases. I believe there are two reasons for this. First of all, I am more familiar with the more recent titles. It is easier to watch the 'newer' movies as they come out than to watch all the movies that are already available. Secondly, there are more Christmas movies released now than in past years.
- Finally, this list is about Christmas movies, not holiday movies. This means that Christmas needs to be a 'character' or a major theme in the film.
So, here is the list in no particular order:
- Millions. This film about the two boys who found a lot of money is a joy and still a surprise. Be sure to see this one if you haven't already. In fact, move it to the top of your list. You will not be sorry.
- It's a Wonderful Life. I still cry when I watch this classic. I am still amazed at the emotional highs and lows, how extreme they get, and how efficiently we are moved from one to the other.
- National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation. The Griswold family has one problem after another while trying to celebrate a traditional Christmas. There is just enough truth to keep us interested and just enough exaggeration to make us laugh.
- A Christmas Story. The perfect memory of every child from any generation. Didn't we all want gifts that were not good for us? Didn't we all secretly wish harm to our enemies? Isn't this a great way to remember it?
- White Christmas. Singing, dancing, soldiers and Christmas, if that will not pull at your heartstrings, what will. And the color is amazing.
- The Bishop's Wife. Which is creepier, the Bishop's wife falling for an angel, or the angel falling for the Bishop's wife. Calmer heads prevail and everyone learns a good lesson. Don't miss this one, but skip the re-make, The Preacher's Wife.
- Holiday Inn. More singing and dancing and romantic hijinks. A year round inn devoted to holidays and a movie about the inn. It's a winner.
- Miracle on 34th Street. If you never believed, you will after watching this. If you did, but now you don't, this will give you hope. If you are not sure, watch it for fun.
- Elf. What if one of the elves was not really an elf? What if that adult, human-sized elf was turned loose in a jaded world? Hilarity ensues. And a good time is had by all.
- Meet Me in St Louis. One more singing and dancing movie. This one a bittersweet tale of familial love and stability all thrown askew with turmoil. Will they go or will they stay?
Wednesday, November 28, 2007
FLYWHEEL is the first feature film from Sherwood Pictures and the Kendrick Brothers, the creators of FACING THE GIANTS.
Directed by and starring Alex Kendrick, FLYWHEEL was filmed with a budget of only $20,000!FLYWHEEL was conceived in spring 2002 after Alex and Stephen Kendrick, who are both pastors on the staff of Sherwood Baptist Church in Albany, Georgia, saw the results of a survey from George Barna's organization that said movies and television shows are more influential in American culture than the church. "We decided as a church to step out on faith and produce a full-length feature film," says Alex Kendrick, who serves as an associate pastor at the church.
A storyline began taking shape not long after that when Alex bought a car. He thought, "What if a minister was conned unknowingly at a car dealer and prayed, 'Lord, treat the salesman the way he treated me.'"With that premise, the plot expanded as Alex and Stephen began to write. Along the way, the movie acquired its title, $20,000 in unsolicited donations, and a prayed-for digital movie camera. The all-volunteer cast and crew came from Sherwood members.
"Prayer was the key to the project," says Stephen Kendrick, who is a senior associate pastor at the church. "We prayed as we worked on the story, we prayed before each day of shooting, and we prayed during the editing process. God repeatedly used the prayers and the passion of this church to bring the movie to completion."
On April 9, 2003, FLYWHEEL debuted in a Carmike Theatre in Albany, and ran as an independent film for an unprecedented six weeks, often outdrawing Hollywood films on adjoining screens.FLYWHEEL received a 4-Dove review from the Dove Foundation and received a strong review from MOVIEGUIDE magazine; it aired on TBN; it won Best Feature at San Francisco's WYSIWYG Film Festival; and it was chosen favorite film by festival attendees at the Saboath International Film Festival in Milan, Italy.
Flywheel is not a big-budget hollywood movie, but it is well worth renting or buying and definitely watching.
Tuesday, November 27, 2007
Part of the problem is that many people have bought into the idea of the R rated movie being of better quality than any others. Because movie producers know this, potential G-rated movies are made a little juicier so they will get a PG. PG movies try for a PG-13 and many PG-13 movies are transformed into R movies just so Hollywood can make a little more money.
But here is my biggest problem: An R rating tells me next to nothing. I know that there will be either profanity, nudity or extreme violence, but I do not know which, or to what level. In fact, sometimes the nudity and profanity in PG-13 films leave the viewer wondering why they were not rated R.
I propose that the movie rating system be changed. There should still be four ratings, R, PG-13, PG and G. However, like television ratings, there should be more information. An R movie that is sexually explicit should be rated R-S. Bad language would make a movie R-L. Violence would be denoted as R-V. This would be true of all four ratings categories.
This ratings system would give the viewer (and parents of viewers) more information about what they are seeing. Violence may not bother me as much as nudity. With this system I could avoid a movie that would give me problems.
I believe that movie producers should be allowed to make whatever movies they want. I also believe that people should be allowed to view whatever movies they would like. My system in no way inhibits or censors anyone. I am advocating more information. I think that everyone could win with this system.
Tuesday, November 20, 2007
But let us not forget to thank God as well. No matter how much you do for yourself, no matter how much you earn, save or receive, no matter how much you create or produce, it all comes from God. No matter how good your network is, God put it together. And at the very least, God made it possible for you to accomplish whatever you have accomplished.
And then there are those who are having a hard time thinking of anything for which they can be thankful. At the risk of seeming uncaring and trite, remember to be thankful anyway. Things can always be worse. One of the keys for people to get better is to recognize that there are people in worse circumstances. Even if it does not seem like it, you should thank God. Thank God in every circumstance, no matter how bleak. Allow him to see your gratitude. Let God know that you are open to his work and blessing in your life, so that he can bless you and work in your life.
We ought to learn to be thankful in every situation. This means that our gratitude should not be limited to one day, or even one season of the year. We should be thankful every day. Thanksgiving should be a mark of your life. Offer to God thanks on a regular basis.
As far as this holiday season is concerned, take advantage of this occasion for thanksgiving.
- Be sure to thank your family and friends for all they mean to you.
- Spend as much time with your family as possible and savor every moment that you have with them.
- Go out of your way to be with them.
- Be gracious and forgiving, if that is necessary.
- Stop holding grudges or relating to others with animosity ill- will.
- Be willing to compromise.
- Do not feel like you always have to get your way.
- Be generous- more generous than ever before.
- Love everyone with all your might.
- Spend time with God.
- Count your blessings and thank God for them.
- Recognize where your blessings come from.
- Practice simplicity.
- Be humble.
- Live in an attitude of thanksgiving.
Monday, November 19, 2007
Christmas is too important to be ignored. It is too significant for Christians, and has become a behemoth in our society that calls us to respond in loving and godly ways.
So, here are some thoughts that have helped me. Maybe they will help you as well.
- Christmas is a significant day in the Christian year. It is not Easter, but without the celebration of the Advent and coming of Christ at Christmas we would not have an Easter to celebrate. We should celebrate the coming of Immanuel, our Messiah.
- The gift-giving of Christmas, although often out-of-control, is a good practice to remind us of the gift that God gave us, his Son.
- The lights and decorations that are everywhere should remind us of the joy of the coming of new life and the Advent of the light of the world.
- Sharing greetings with others at Christmas time is a perfect way to share your faith with someone else. Do not give in to the pressure to eliminate Christ from your celebration. Boldly share what God has done for you.
- The entire celebration of Christmas, even when taken to its most extreme, is evidence that the world wants to believe. People all around you want to celebrate. They want to have Santa- a benevolent, miraculous gift-giver, to be real. They want a Father God and the gift of His Son. Use and meet these desires in your family Christmas celebration.
- People are more open to the work of God at Christmas than at any other time of the year. Do not let these seekers down. Be loving, gentle and joyous as you celebrate this year.
Whether we like it or not, Christmas is here. Ready or not, someone needs to hear. I plan to be sharing this holiday season. How about you?
Sunday, November 18, 2007
Nothing will cause an organization to die a more agonizing death than when it gets boring. As boredom takes root in an organization it permeates the whole. Meetings get boring. Plans are boring. Programs and projects and products get boring. And when boredom starts, death is the next thing.
There are two alternatives to dealing with boredom.
- Do not allow boredom to start in the first place. Keep things interesting. Never do the same thing twice. If you have to do the same thing again, do it a different way. Keep improving meetings, products and programs. Just because it is acceptable now does not mean that it always will be.
- When boredom starts, stop it as soon as possible. Be on the lookout for boredom. When you see the first signs make some changes. Do things in a new way. Do some new things. Take a break. Find inspiration. Remember the excitement you used to have and learn to recapture it.
Remember, if you want to live, don't be boring.
Saturday, November 17, 2007
The point that Jesus is trying to make is very simple. Spread your seed all over. Drop it wherever you can. The more seed you scatter, the more that will take root. And the more seed that takes root, the more that will flourish and ultimately bear fruit.
This philosophy is also true in recruiting leaders. Recruit leaders from everywhere. There is nowhere (NOWHERE) that you should not be recruiting, or at least thinking about recruiting. I am always on the lookout for someone who can assist me in my work. I am constantly encouraging people to get training, to spend time in study, to try new things so I can see their leadership potential.
Jesus also said that we should be praying for more workers. As far as I am concerned, this is a clear admonition to leader recruitment. There is enough work to do for everyone. In fact, there is too much work. We need help!
So, that quiet teen-ager is a potential leader. The single mother with no job is a potential leader. The elderly man in poor health, he is a potential leader. (Remember that Moses was 80 years old when God called him.)
All of this means that every conversation I have is a job interview. Every place that I go is a job search. I am always looking for leaders. Once in a very great while, someone will come to me and volunteer. That is by far the exception to the rule. Almost always the most effective leaders have to be sought out and encouraged from the very beginning.
The leaders are there. The work will get done. Part of my job is to find and prepare the people who will do the work.
Friday, November 16, 2007
- Leaders that you are training must have a stake in the organization. Potential leaders must be included in planning, decision making and policy proposals for the group. Give them the opportunity to contribute early on. The success of the program, and your leadership development, will depend upon sharing responsibility.
- Potential leaders must be given the opportunity to lead. Shielding leaders from the actual work of leading does no one any favors.
- You must be open and honest with your future leaders. Dishonesty and secrecy will hinder your relationship with any potential leaders.
- Your relationship with your leaders is more important than any content you might share with them. There is no substitute for time and attention with those who will become leaders.
- Leaders must be encouraged at every point, even when they fail. Never become so negative that your protege becomes discouraged or disheartened.
- Reinforce positive behaviors too much. Do not ever be afraid that you are over-doing the praising of your leaders. Praise is the one thing that most of us do not get enough of.
- Create a team atmosphere with all your projects. Always be looking for the next person that can take over leadership and include them as a teammate. Do not be 'in charge,' be cooperative.
- Listen to suggestions and ideas of team members. Give everyone an opportunity to share and contribute.
Wednesday, November 14, 2007
Many of us live our entire lives that way. We drift from one event to another, one day to the next. We never know what we are doing, or why we are doing. Since we have to vote, we might as well vote for someone else's preference. Too many people have bought into the philosophy that life happens. So what?
In one way, everything is so much simpler if we take life as it comes. If we don't consider the implications of our words, or the consequences of our actions we do not have to feel bad about what we have done or caused. Some individuals have never considered the possibility that there might be a reason to do a particular thing (or not to do it).
It was Socrates that said, "The unexamined life is not worth living." I have to agree with that, and all it's implications. I am committed to knowing all I can about my life and the world I live in. This means that I must not only make good choices, but I need to know why those choices are good. I need to know what I am doing, why I am doing it and what will happen because of it.
I must live my life on purpose. I will make plans and set goals. I will think about what comes next, and after that and after that. I will consider the motivations for my actions. I will quit living by chance. No more life by happenstance and coincidence. I am in charge of my own life and my own decisions. How about you?
Tuesday, November 13, 2007
Abortion has become a political issue (in the church and out of the church), but it should not be. It is an issue about the values that individuals and cultures hold. Our society (21st Century USA) believes that an individual has the right to end a pregnancy for any reason. When it becomes a political discussion an appeal is made on behalf of women's health and safety, abuse, neglect and rape, as well as the potential disabilities that a baby might have. In practice, however, inconvenience, gender selection and personal preference are more often the reasons for terminating a pregnancy.
Many Christians have sided with the pro-choice faction when discussing certain abortion cases. They would say that a woman should be allowed to have an abortion if she was raped, or if her health is in danger. These same Christians are adamantly opposed to abortions of the second category. No one should be allowed an abortion for the purpose of gender selection, they say.
My question is, why are some abortions acceptable and some are not? If a pregnancy is a gift from God, and if a new baby is a child of God, why should we abort any children? Do we have the right to determine that a mother's health and life are more valuable than that of their unborn child? I say no! If abortion is wrong, it is wrong. There should not be exceptions. Killing is killing. Murder is murder.
There are some implications to our current national position on abortion.
- When we approve of abortion we increase the value we put on ourselves. We are endorsing the view that the individual is the most important in any situation when we allow an individual the 'freedom' to choose abortion. In Christian terms, this self-exaltation, whether or not it accompanies an abortion, is a sin. If this is true, abortion is merely a symptom of a deeper kind of sin.
- When we approve of abortion we decrease the value that we put on life in general. If we can eliminate a life before it is born it means that it is insignificant to us.
- When we approve of abortion we move down a slope toward voluntary euthanasia (think Jack Kevorkian) and ultimately to active elimination of the elderly, sick, handicapped and inconvenient. If this sounds familiar remember Hitler and the 3rd Reich.
Monday, November 12, 2007
I know that people who say these things mean well. I just do not think they are being reasonable and thinking about what they are saying. It is our way of doing three things at once. I am trying to make you feel better by wishing you well. I am trying to make myself feel better by appeasing my conscience. And, I am carefully avoiding doing anything at all.
Instead of spouting empty promises or pompous platitudes, wouldn't it be better if we actually prayed for people? What would happen if every time we wanted to say, 'my prayers are with you,' we prayed instead? The next time a person tells you about the tragedy of their life, grab their hands and pray for them. Begin to pray for people instead of telling them that you will pray for them. Then, continue to pray for them. Do not feel as though you have done your duty just because you prayed one time. Pray later, regularly and often. Pray until you learn that your prayers have been answered.
There is one more problem with this issue. Sometimes we find ourselves in no position and with no attitude to pray. We feel like we have to get in the right frame of mind before we can pray. There is a verse in the Bible that says that you should always be praying (1Thessalonians 5.17). We should always be thinking about prayer, looking for opportunities to pray and sharing our concerns with God. When a person comes to you with a crisis, be ready to pray. Have your attitude always set to spend time with God.
Friday, November 9, 2007
We live in a world that is filled with hypocrisy. Attorneys are famously used as the butt of many jokes about the lack of integrity that Americans have. But we also believe that business people are dishonest. I have come to the conclusion that a doctor who is concerned about me as a patient is the exception rather than the rule. More often than not, a physician would not recognize me on the street without the assistance of that folder with all my medical information.
The bigger problem in this situation, however, is not that people do bad things. It is not even that people are pretty bad. What makes this problem so terrible is that we have all come to accept this as the way things are.
And church people are the worst. They pretend to be holy and spiritual for a couple of hours each week. But get them away from church, or on any day but Sunday, and we learn that Christians are too often just like everyone else. They screw up. Worse still, they don't seem to care that they screw up.
But wouldn't a true Christian, a true follower of Jesus, be consistent in belief and lifestyle? I mean, doesn't it stand to reason if you should behave a certain way on Sunday that you should behave the same way on Tuesday? And if you don't use vulgar language at church, shouldn't you avoid using it at work, or the ball game, or anywhere else?
I believe that all people are called by God to be 24-7 Christians. We are to do the work of Christ every moment of every day. Our lives should be a constant reminder of the love of Jesus to everyone around us.
And our churches should produce people who live consistently what they believe. They should be examples good works and mercy to other institutions and programs in our communities. They should be welcoming, healing places where all people can experience the touch and love of God. That is the church I want to be a part of. That is the kind of Christian I want to be.
Wednesday, November 7, 2007
However, I also love to sing praise choruses around a camp fire and hold hands with a small group while praying for the needs of a close friend. Reading the Bible by flashlight is an experience that everyone should experience.
But then there is the fellowship group that laughs and talks too loud at the local pizza joint. A brief prayer before eating does not seem like worship, but it can be just as significant and meaningful as any other dialogue with God.
You see, I believe that wherever you are, God is with you. That means that wherever you are right now, is a good place for worship. The woods, the ocean and a church are all places that we think are appropriate for worship, but we should also consider a factory, a school, even Starbuck's.
If Jesus promises to never leave nor forsake me (Hebrews 13.5), and that he will always be with me (Matthew 28.20) then I should be prepared to worship at any time or place.
The first implication is that I may need to be more careful where I go. If I find myself in a place, or in company that would make worship uncomfortable or inappropriate, it is probably a place that I should not be. If worship in a tavern is impossible for you, do not be in a tavern, ever. If worship is impossible with a certain group of friends, maybe you need different friends.
Another implication has to do with the priority that we give to worship. Too often we relegate worship to one hour on Sunday morning. The Sunday morning ghetto is the only place that we even think about God. Remember that if Christ is always with you, you should be worshiping throughout the week.
Tuesday, November 6, 2007
- There are civic holidays. These are occasions like Independence Day, Flag Day and Memorial Day in which our government and institutions recognize the importance of a specific detail of Americana.
- There are greeting card holidays. These holidays are made-up. That is, someone who wanted to sell a product, a card, flowers or candy, invented these occasions. Some examples include Secretary's Day, Grandparent's Day and even Mother's Day.
- There are quasi-religious holidays. These are generally secular events that through the years have taken on religious, or spiritual, tones. Veteran's Day and Thanksgiving are among these events.
- There are social holidays. Social holidays are those dates that we save only for the purpose of celebrating. New Year's Eve and New Year's Day fall into this category.
- There are also religious, or Christian, holidays (holy days). Easter, Christmas and others constitute some of the religious holidays that we celebrate.
One of the problems with our holidays is the secularization of holy days. Here are a few examples.
- St Patrick's Day was originally a celebration of the great saint who brought Christianity to Ireland. It had nothing to do with leprechauns or green beer.
- Easter is a recognition of the resurrection of Jesus, the foundational event in Christianity. However, we have allowed it to become a time for hiding colored eggs, eating chocolate and visits from magical rabbits. (Ash Wednesday, Good Friday and all of Lent have largely been lost in the secularizing shuffle.)
- All Saints Day, celebrated on November 1, is a remembrance of all the Christians who have gone before and are no longer with us. This long-forgotten holiday has served for many to be an after-thought from All Hallow's Eve (now commonly know as Halloween).
- Christmas, the birth of Jesus, is celebrated by virtually everyone in America. It matters not the religion, people shop and give and spend and regret throughout the month of December. A controversy a few years ago reminded us that we celebrate "Christmas" not "Happy Holidays," but it was, and remains, a largely semantic distinction.
There are reasons for Christians to celebrate. We ought to be celebrating our Holy Days more gloriously and graciously than anyone else. We should be using our holy days to bring the love and grace of God to bear on our world.
Monday, November 5, 2007
I have tried to look at death objectively: It happens to all people. But that does not seem to help at all. I encourage people to avoid it. Like the rest of America I am somewhat obsessed with delaying death as long as possible. To that end I check my blood pressure, cholesterol and other statistics pretty regularly. I admonish friends and loved ones to see a physician frequently. I do not like dealing with death.
But the other side of the equation is that I do deal with death a lot. I am a pastor, after all. I attend funerals and preside over them rather frequently. I am comfortable in funeral homes, hearses and cemeteries. I like funeral directors. I even get a certain amount of satisfaction from ministering to grieving families. It is very fulfilling for me.
I have made some observations about death, dying and funerals.
- People who attend funerals, particularly families and friends of the deceased, are very open to hearing about Jesus. In fact, they expect and appreciate it.
- People who are grieving do not necessarily want to hear someone spouting pat answers about the afterlife. Sometimes the most important thing to offer is a warm embrace, a listening ear and an open heart.
- Those who have died do not haunt places, people or objects. I know that when I leave this world I will not be hanging around spiritually.
- A deceased person does not become an angel. Angels are a completely separate entity of creation. Humans will eternally be humans. Angels will eternally be angels.
- Living a good life is commendable, but it will not get you to heaven when you die.
- The most important thing that you can do for someone in grief, is to "be there."
- Understand that everyone expresses grief in different ways. Just because the wife of the deceased is not crying does not mean that she is not grieving, or that she did not care.
- Grieving, visiting, funerals, meals, wakes and burials all take time. Do not rush through them.
- Life is too short to take anyone you love or anything you enjoy for granted.
I will die someday. I hope that it is many years from now, but I will die. The end is coming and may be very near. I am going to be careful for the rest of my life, to live as though I might die tomorrow, but to plan for living forever.
Friday, November 2, 2007
Britney makes a lot of money. Even though she is certainly past her heyday as a revenue-generating celebrity, Britney still brings home about $737,000 each month. Not bad for a has been. That is not the problem, though. The difficulty that Americans should have with Britney's life is not the amount of money that she makes, but what she does with her money.
She has all the normal expenses that everyone else does. She makes two mortgage payments each month that equal almost $50,000. She spends $16,000 each month on clothes. Her largest reported expense is entertainment, which costs the pop princess $102,000 every 30 days. Britney spends over $4,700 eating out each month.
There are three problems with Britney's spending:
- Britney Spears spends more money on her clothes than she spends on her children. (Britney pays $15,000 each month in child support.) Now I am sure that there are out of pocket expenses that Britney has for the children when they are in her care, but she is certainly more committed to herself than to her children.
- Britney gives about $500 each month to charity. Just so there is no misunderstanding, she gives about .06% of her income to charity. That is not 6%. It is .06%. To give it some context, if you were to give away .06% of $1000, you would be donating 60 cents.
- The things that would make Britney a better person, education, savings, saving for her children's educations, do not appear in this report. That does not mean that she is saving and it is not reported here. There is no question about the fact. Britney is not saving. She is not planning for that future. She is not becoming a better person.
A wise man once said, 'For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. (Matthew 6.21)' It is pretty apparent that Britney Spears' heart is all about Britney Spears.
for more information on Britney Spears financial disclosure refer to http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,307492,00.html
Thursday, November 1, 2007
Across the Universe is one of the most enjoyable films that I have seen for quite some time. As such, it should be viewed, the first time at least, for the sheer joy of it. Enjoy the story. Enjoy the music. Enjoy the characters and the cast of actors. Enjoy the special effects. And especially, enjoy the mood.
- The story is somewhat predictable. A working class boy from England travels to America where he meets a privileged Ivy-league friend and falls in love with his sister. The romance is met with many complications and obstacles, but the end leaves nothing to surprise.
- The music is classic Lennon-McCartney fare with a little Harrison and Starr thrown in. However, you do not hear the Beatles performing the music. These are all new arrangements. And although you can hear the originals, they are completely different. The cast does all of the singing. Highlights are I Wanna Hold Your Hand, and Oh Darling.
- The characters follow the story and there is not much new here. There is a Janis Joplin character and a Jimi Hendrix character in addition to your typical romantic movie characters. The key here is the cast. The young people who make up the cast are great. All of them, with the exception of Evan Rachel Wood, are virtually unknown in the US. Look for Bono and Joe Cocker in great roles and wonderful performances.
- The special effects come into play almost always in the context of some musical production number. And although these are sometimes hard to understand, they are immensely entertaining.
- Finally, the mood is joyful. It is an event. It is fun.
Across the Universe is flying somewhat below the radar. Don't miss it, though. You won't be sorry if you see it.
Wednesday, October 31, 2007
So I have determined that I will be a sort-of missionary to waiters and waitresses wherever I go and whenever I eat out. Generally speaking, the response I get is overwhelmingly positive. Wait staff appreciate the attention and the pleasantness.
Being kind to waiters is not hard. In fact, there are only a few things that I make sure to do.
- Converse with your waitress. Be interested in her thoughts, her life, her work.
- Call her by her name. She is wearing a name tag, after all. Besides that, she began the evening by saying, "My name is Amber and I'll be your server tonight."
- Be extremely polite. Wear out your pleases and thank yous. You cannot be too polite.
- Listen and pay attention to your server. You will be surprised how much they are willing to share with strangers who are interested in them. Ask questions about what she wants to do with her life. (Most waiters and waitresses are working through school or saving money until they can follow their dream.)
- Pray for your waitress. Before I say grace over my dinner, I often ask my server if there is something that I can pray for him/her about. I am always amazed at how receptive and willing people are to share concerns and to be prayed for.
- Leave a good tip. Tip more than the standard 15-20%. Show your server that you are not just interested in being entertained or served, but that you are interested in them.
- Build a relationship with your favorite waiter. Ask for that waiter the next time you are in the same restaurant. He will remember you and you will get better service than ever. But more importantly, He will believe that you really do care about him.
Tuesday, October 30, 2007
The Christian arts world is segregated from reality. With very few exceptions, the music, dance, drama, film, literature and visual art that the Christian world produces has separated itself from anything that we might call the secular world. The very few instances when Christian artists have moved into the mainstream (these are almost always musicians) the motivation has been the entirely un-Christian attitude of greed.
So why has this happened? Why do we have inferior art in the Christian world? After all, we are biblically challenged to give our very best and to do our very best for the Lord. So, why don't we?
- The Christian arts subculture is consumed with making money. No experimentation can take place because it might interfere with the profit margin. The Christian music world only produces what has sold in the past. It is all about the bottom line.
- The Christian publishers and record companies are not owned by secular corporations. This is true in nearly every case. The profits and marketability of a product have become more important than ever. And beside that, the heads of these corporation have little, if any Christian context to evaluate whether or not a product is Christian and has quality.
- The Christian arts subculture almost always imitates secular art. This keeps the Christian world a little bit behind everyone else all the time. It also serves as a stagnating agent.
- The Christian arts subculture, bound as it is to imitation of the secular and the concern for profits, lacks creativity. In the Bible we are told that there is nothing new under the sun. This is definitely true in Christianity. If you want something new, creative, innovative or different you have to look to the secular world.
- The Christian arts subculture lacks excellence. Again, the reasons have already been stated. Christians do not produce art, but products. The production of commodities leads to an "adequate" mindset. We determine that when things are good enough we can sell them.
- Finally, the Christian subculture lacks variety. This is true in every form of art. If you have read about three Christian novels, you know the basic story of all the rest. If you have listened to four Christian albums, you can sing along to the others.
God is the master of Creation. He made it all, after all. How sad that his followers, that's you and I, allow mediocrity to be labeled as Christian. Open your eyes and ears. Know what is going on in the Christian world and start to make a difference.
Monday, October 29, 2007
- Learn to have conversations with people, especially young people. The most important part of a conversation is listening. Learn to be interested in what others have to say. Listen with your whole mind. Lead the conversation so that you are talking more about the other person than you are about yourself.
- Volunteer in ways that puts you in contact with kids. Help out at your local school, YMCA, Boy's Club, Scout Troop or church youth group.
- Attend school functions so that you get to know some young people. Plays, concerts and sporting events are obvious examples, but you can also inquire about having lunch at school, judging speech competitions helping in classrooms, etc.
- Develop a profile at Myspace.com. Many young people in your neighborhood are using this social networking website. You can become a friend to many people that you have never met. This will also give you new credibility when you have time with kids in other settings.
- Take a teen to lunch after church. Pick a youth from your church and have a meal with them. Talk to youth group leaders, youth pastors and Sunday school teachers for suggestions and guidelines.
- Watch MTV. Merely watching MTV will not get you in touch with kids, but knowing the culture and environment of teens will help you when you do spend time with kids.
- Hang out where kids hang out. If the teens in your town eat at Taco Bell, then you should learn to like Mexican food.
Make a difference in the world by reaching out to one teen at a time. Do not put it off. Everyone can do it. Do it right away.
Wednesday, October 24, 2007
These clubs would not be churches or cell groups as such, but social communities that share the same interests. The members would not necessarily have the same viewpoints or belief systems, but could join together for discussion and mutual encouragement. The objective of the club would be to join in times of social gathering and fulfill the Three Hs.
- Follow God with your heart. This has to do with spiritual searching and commitment. Every human is involved in a search for spirituality. Some seek it in religion, others in drugs, sex, gambling or other places. In the 3-H club members will share their search for God.
- Follow God with your head. Many people have an intellectual problem with matters of faith and religion. Unsubstantiated belief does not make sense to them. The 3-H Club should allow honest (but not hateful) questioning, discussion and doubt.
- Follow God with your hands. This is the practical side of spirituality. If we must get it into our heart and head, we must work it out in our daily lives. The 3-H club should encourage members to work out their faith by giving, going, serving and sharing with others.
Tuesday, October 23, 2007
Another thing that commends this movie is the performance quality of the lead actors. Joaquin Phoenix as Johnny and Reese Witherspoon as June give the best performances of their respective careers. Witherspoon was rewarded with a best actress Oscar for her part. Although neither of these actors looks like their subjects, and although neither of them are especially proficient in the singing category, it is not long before you forget that you are watching actors. These two become Johnny and June.
There is a lot in the content of this movie that I am not wild about. I do not like Johnny's drug abuse and seeming disrespect for the law. I do not like the relationship that grows between Johnny and June while both are married to other partners. In fact, the film seems to teach us that love is more important than commitment; that ecstasy is more important than a promise.
But there is much more that I love about this movie. I love the music. I love the story. I love the almost incidental inclusion of rock legends like Jerry Lee Lewis and Elvis Presley. But most of all, I love the two lessons that are taught by this film.
First of all, we learn that the power of love is enough to overcome any obstacle or addiction. Even though June is reluctant to admit it, she is in love with Johnny. Her upbringing does not allow her to pursue a relationship with a married man, but in her heart she loves him. And in her mind she is committed to him. When Johnny is at his lowest point and no one seems to care whether he lives or dies, June comes to the rescue. It is because of her deep love for him that this is even possible.
Secondly, Walk the Line is a story of redemption. There are penalties that must be paid for sins. The are consequences for our actions. There are punishments for our crimes. Even Johnny Cash could not escape these realities. As he fought his addiction to drugs he struggled with self-doubt and human weakness. He, like all who must overcome addiction, learned that it is nearly impossible for a person to overcome it alone. That is where June came in. She brought life to Johnny. Her love was a message to him that he was not alone. Her presence at his greatest time of need showed her commitment to Johnny and to the good that was in him.
There are no surprises in this movie. Even the most casual observer knows that Johnny and June were married. We all know that Johnny has a colorful history. But even if you know the story and the music this movie is well worth your time.
Monday, October 22, 2007
So, where to begin? How about starting with a few observations?
- Jesus was an educated person. There is every indication that Jesus studied in rabbinical schools until he was an adult. His disciples, and others, referred to him as rabbi. This denotes a level of respect and education that many had not attained. Some people have even suggested that by the time he was an adult, Jesus would have memorized the books of Moses, Genesis- Deuteronomy.
- God created everything about people, including their brains. He commanded Adam and Eve, and later Noah and his sons, to be stewards over all creation. This would include your mind. You are responsible for developing and using all of the gifts and assets that God has given you. Naturally, this includes your brain.
- The Scriptures admonish us to study (2 Timothy 2.15), train others (Proverbs 22.6) and to use the spiritual gift of teaching (Ephesians 4.11).
- Education, secular and Christian, is good for you. As your mind is developed and trained, it wards of problems.
There is no such thing as too much education. God expects all of us to learn as much about him, his word and his world as we can. We must be careful, however, about the education that we receive. Be careful to not blindly accept teachings or philosophies that run counter to the Scriptures.
I did not deal with the big issues yet, did I? How about this? Public school is great in the USA. All children are offered a generally excellent education for free. But remember two things; Parents are the primary educators of their children. It is the responsibility of parents to insure that the education of their children is effective and accurate. And secondly, if all the children of all Christian families were home-schooled or placed in private schools, there would be even less Christian influence in our schools and society.
Get as much education as you can and as often as you can. And when you are not in a position to receive formal education, become your own teacher. Find ways to learn.
Friday, October 19, 2007
The problem with this theory is that there are also scientists who claim that even though the earth is getting warmer, it is a natural process and nothing to be alarmed about. These scientists believe that humans are not responsible for the warming, but that there is a natural fluctuation in the earth's temperature from year to year and from century to century. This certainly would make me feel better about myself and my impact on the future of humanity, but who can I believe? Does it matter?
First of all, I am not a scientist. What I know about science and/or global warming I could write in uppercase letters on a postage stamp. However, I know that I like living on this planet. I do not know if it is getting warmer, but how much affect will it have to pay attention? Will I really notice if I drive less, or in a smaller car? What if I turn off the lights when I am not in the room? Will it really be that big of a deal?
Secondly, I think that much of the posturing and politicking about global warming is just that; posturing and politicking. Scientists and universities on both sides of the issue are angling for grants and government funding, not so much to save the world, but to make a few dollars. I know that this is a pretty cynical view, but I believe that it is not far off the mark.
Finally, I know what the Bible says about the environment. God made everything that exists. This includes all the plants, animals, planets and stars. He made them so that humans, you and I, can enjoy them. He provided them so that we would have meat, fruit and grain to eat and clothes to wear. He made this planet so that humanity could be sustained.
But God also gave humans responsibility in this created order. You and I are responsible to care for the world and all that is in it. We are to use the resources that God provides, yes. But we are never to misuse or overuse them. People are responsible to tend the garden, to name the animals and to subdue creation. There is a very strong element of care in each if these biblical instructions.
The world is ours. We can use it up and throw it away, or we can fulfill God's purposes for it. Which will it be?