Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Waitress Tips

I have become very sympathetic to those who wait tables and serve in restaurants. They have a very hard job and get very little pay. Not only that, customers- that's you and I- are too often jerks. They are inconsiderate, demanding and rude. As a Christian and a pastor, one of the most embarrassing indictments on the church is the number of waiters who will not work on Sundays. They do not want to work then because the Christian, after-church lunch crowd is terrible. As a general rule we are more rude and demanding than others and we tip a lot less. (Raise your hand if you know someone who leaves gospel tracts instead of money for a tip.)

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.
  1. Converse with your waitress. Be interested in her thoughts, her life, her work.
  2. 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."
  3. Be extremely polite. Wear out your pleases and thank yous. You cannot be too polite.
  4. 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.)
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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 Subculture

Christians seem obsessed, and rightfully so, with producing art and entertainment. God created the arts and he gave Christians artistic gifts and desires. He gave us the ability and the inclination to create. But there is a big problem with the Christian arts scene. It has become what can only be described as a ghetto.

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?
  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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

Spending Time with Kids

I have maintained for a long time that the best way to make a difference in the world, especially with teens, is to spend time with them. When you spend time with teens you can develop relationships with them and influence their lives in positive ways. To that end, I have developed this list of practical suggestions for spending time with teens.
  • 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 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

3-H Club

It occurred to me recently that there are a lot of clubs that people join. There are social clubs, civic clubs, professional organizations, sports groups and hobby or interest clubs. All of these recruit members who have similar likes and dislikes. They share priorities and interests. Wouldn't it be interesting if we started our own clubs?

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

A Walk on the Wild Side of the Line

I have watched the film Walk the Line several times. I love it. It is one of my favorite movies ever. It is the story of the relationship between Johnny Cash and June Carter. A big part of why I like this movie is that it is about Johnny Cash, one of my all-time favorite singer/entertainer/performers. In my mind anyway, he was larger than life.

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

How to Think Like a Christian About Education

There are many concerns in the Christian community about education. There are the familiar discussions and debates about public schools vs. Christian schools, or public vs. home schools. Many people get worked up about higher education. They believe that it is possible to be “too educated.” These concerns do not even begin to deal with the issue of science and it’s seeming contradictions with faith.

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

How to think like a Christian about the Environment

The environment is getting a bad rap lately. There are many scientists who are telling us that the earth is getting too hot. This warm-up, so we are told, is being caused by the careless attitude of humans toward it. Humans, it seems, use up resources and create what are called green house gasses. These gasses, human exhaust, if you like, are causing the whole planet to get too hot. This heat will result in the melting of glaciers and ice caps and ultimately the destruction of the world as we know it.

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?

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Athletics vs. The Arts

We Americans love our sports. Think about how many restaurants and bars in this country are devoted to sports fans. There are thousands of people who make their living coaching, scouting, administering, supporting and gambling on athletic contests. (That does not include those who get paid for playing games.) Our cities love having sports teams. In fact, many communities live with special taxes to entice and support professional sports teams.

In recent years we have watched as athletes have begun using drugs and other supplements to enhance their abilities to compete. It has become a contest to see who can get the best drugs and how can we keep the authorities from learning what drugs we are taking. This new kind of cheating has assaulted the record books in ways that we will never know.

Meanwhile, in our schools, we have football stadiums and gymnasiums built for thousands and auditoriums built for hundreds. We charge people to watch a basketball game and they pack the place, but offer a free choral concert and the auditorium is embarrassingly empty.

All of this is not caused by schools, however. It would be ridiculous to build an auditorium that will never be full. Schools are bound by the laws of economics just as businesses and families are. Athletics generates funds. The arts cost money. It is a sad reality that must be dealt with on at least three fronts.
  1. First of all, our schools must elevate the importance and visibility of the arts. This must be done within the school and in the community. Steps must be taken to communicate to students that the arts are valuable. And then, schools must market the arts to their communities in the same way that they market the homecoming football game.
  2. The media needs to cover arts activities and events in the same way that it covers athletics. My hunch is that there are at least as many students (probably more) involved in graphic arts, music, drama and dance in our schools than in all the sports combined. It is time that local newspapers covered the fall art show in the same way that it covered last week's basketball game.
  3. Parents and community-minded people need to support the arts in school the way that sports gets supported. There need to be active groups of parents/adults who will advocate for arts-related programming. Auditoriums need to be filled for plays and recitals.

Only as we take the challenge to get personally involved and make a difference will a difference be made.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007


Optimism is a choice that we make. You get to choose whether or not you will believe in every conspiracy theory that comes along. You have the ability to decide if you will be negative all the time. Or you can choose to be an optimist.

Optimism is a way of life, a worldview. An optimist chooses to think that things will turn out well. He believes that things are always looking up. He still thinks that he can win when he is down four runs with two outs in the bottom of the ninth. And the optimist believes this way, because he has decided to believe this way.

The choice to be an optimist is one that must be made every day. Each morning bad things will happen. There will be complaints and complainers. Tragedies will come. It would be easy to succumb to pessimism and negativity. That is why optimism must be chosen on a regular basis.

In the Bible we are told that love believes all things. In fact, in that passage, 1 Corinthians 13, we have a veritable laundry list of the attributes of love. We would not do it injustice if we were to believe that love is similar to optimism. Love endures all things; optimism never gives up. Love is kind; optimism wants others to do well.

So, there it is. Optimism is a way of life that comes from choices we make every day. It is not unlike love. So love your neighbors every day.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

What Gifts Do You Have?

I have been working on a study of the Holy Spirit. The purpose of the study is in preparation for a series of sermons that I will be presenting in November. But I have been struck by something that I have never noticed before.

There are lists of spiritual gifts throughout the New Testament. You can find gifts in Romans 12, 1 Corinthians 12, Ephesians 4 and 1 Peter 4. But inevitably, when the conversation turns toward spiritual gifts there are two or three that dominate. We spend an inordinate amount of time discussing the validity, purpose and use of tongues, prophecy and healing, while virtually ignoring some other gifts.

Before I turn to the three gifts that I want to focus on, let me make some general statements about them.

First of all, although these gifts are less glamorous and obvious than some others, they are more important in the context of the daily life of the Christian and the edifying of the Christian community. Secondly, not only are these gifts more important, they are more widely granted and used than any other gifts. Third, we should look for those individuals who have these gifts and lift them up as examples of the work of God's Spirit in our midst. And finally, these gifts, which are often neglected, or at least taken for granted, should be the most highly sought after and coveted gifts of all.
  • Hospitality. There is a great need in the world to care for and be kind to others. There are more people in the Christian world who are exercising this gift than we will ever know. We should encourage those people in the exercise of their gift.
  • Encouragement. Being a Christian can be one of the most depressing things that you will ever have to do. There are those who disbelieve, who ridicule and oppose you at every turn. Take advantage of the gift of encouragement that some people have in the body of Christ. Allow them to build you up.
  • Faith. In a desire to obtain the dramatic gifts, we often overlook the truth that faith is foundational for all of them. Every person has been given faith by God. Now you and I need to express to him our desire for more faith and to use the faith that we have.

Monday, October 15, 2007

The Prosperity Gospel

I have not been everywhere. I have not seen everything. But I have been in some homes with dirt floors, no water or plumbing and no electricity in Africa. I have befriended service workers in the Caribbean who work 60-80 weeks for $100 a month. I have been in homes in Appalachia that you cannot drive to. People live in places where services that I take for granted are not even considered. I have met disciples of Jesus in all of these situations. People with such faith that I feel like a 'doubting Thomas' live in conditions that I would not leave my dog in. These people are poor and they love Jesus.

There are people in my church who live from paycheck to paycheck. They make decisions to pay the rent or to buy their medicine. They do not eat out or go to movies. When they make contributions to the church, or other ministries, it is truly a sacrifice for them. They love Jesus and they struggle to get by.

There are people in many parts of the world who are not only destitute, but they are in danger for their faith. These faithful brothers and sisters in Christ are often arrested, tortured and executed for their faith in Christ. These martyrs love Jesus and prosperity is not even an issue for them.

I have not met the most destitute people in America, in the Caribbean, or in Africa. But I have seen some preachers on television that make me made as anything. I am fed up with preachers who try to justify their extravagant lives and lifestyles by playing on the needs and concerns of innocent, maybe naive, Christians. The idea that God wants me to be rich is at least preposterous and possibly heretical. If God's will was for all Christians to be wealthy there would not be faithful, committed servants of his living in shacks with dirt floors. Surely God would bless the most faithful and the most hurting first.

These preachers, I will not name them because you know who they are (if you do not turn on your Christian television station), corrupt the word and the work of God. They will make more money if they can convince their viewers that God will bless everyone if we just send in some money and have enough faith. So a supposed evangelist is stealing money under false pretenses and challenging the faith of anyone who does not go along with this scheme.

This is a travesty that we have allowed for too long. So do this:
  1. Do not watch or support ministers who proclaim a 'prosperity' message. Please continue to participate in every way in the ministries of those who are truly ministering to the spiritual (and physical) needs of viewers.
  2. Ask your local television and radio outlets to not support these 'ministries'. Write letters and emails, make calls to request change.
  3. Pray for hurting and persecuted Christians all over the world. Find ways to share your resources, time and prayers with those who are in need.
  4. Learn to be content with your own possessions and income. God has blessed you. He will continue to take care of you.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

The Whole World's After Him

I spent part of last night with an intoxicated 15 year old. It was not my favorite thing to do. First there was vomiting, then staggering, falling down, slurring speech, more vomiting and lying. This was not fun, nor was it funny. In fact, it was a bad situation all the way around. Initially, I was very angry with this boy. My mind went immediately to questions like, "What were you thinking?" "Don't you know how stupid this is?" and "Did you think no one would figure this out?" But after a while my perspective changed.

This boy blamed everyone. He was not willing (ever) to take responsibility for himself. It was his friends' fault. (Interestingly, none of them were as drunk as he was.) It was the fault of his father and mother and their divorce. It was his sister's fault. It seemed to be every one's fault but his own.

This seems like a terrible thing, but it is what most of us do on a regular basis. We want to blame someone else for every bad thing that happens to us. This is the major contributing factor to the Oprah/ Dr Phil phenomena. As long as I can blame someone else, I am off the hook. This is a terrible syndrome that we Americans have. If I continue to blame someone else for all of my problems, I will never get better. I must take responsibility for what I do. But try telling that to a 15 year old drunk.

Another thing that happened nearly broke my heart. While he was waiting for his mother to come pick him up, this boy was talking to his father on the telephone. Although I could only hear parts of one side of the conversation, it seems as though the father was trying to keep the boy calm and focused while waiting for mom. It was then that the boy said, "Dad, are you drunk?" My safe and sane worldview fell apart at that moment. Why should a 15 year old ever have to worry about whether or not a parent would of could help them out of a jam? It was almost too much for me.

It came into focus pretty clearly and pretty quickly. Although my young friend is responsible for his own drunkenness, he needs a much better example than he has. And finally, his mother arrived. The boy did not seem to be in any trouble. Mom was mostly embarrassed that other people saw her son in this condition, and consequently may think less of her abilities as a mother.

So here is my prediction: Whether this was the first drunken night for this boy or not, there will be more. Dad is setting an example. Mom is enabling it to happen. The boy is not taking responsibility. There is no question in my mind that this scene will repeat itself.

It is probably time that more severe action is taken, for the sake of this boy. Perhaps a ride with the sheriff and a round of court proceedings would make a difference. Maybe some time in a rehab program is necessary. Or it could be that this boy just needs an adult or two who will care for him.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Faith or Ego??

Sometimes you can get a bad rap. Sometimes people look at you and get the wrong idea. They think that you are arrogant or full of yourself. They see your confidence and think that you are an egomaniac. There are many cases of this misidentification in history. A political leader seems full of vanity, but actual he is just self-assured. A sports figure might appear to be stuck on himself, but he is just confident.

I can think of a couple of situations in the Bible where the same sort of thing happened.

  1. Joseph was despised by his brothers. His first problem was that he was his father's favorite child. There were 12 sons in the family. Being the favorite of 12 is a big deal. The brothers grew to resent Joseph because of his preferred status in the family. But that was not enough. Joseph began to have dreams in which he seemed to be exalted even further above his brothers. The resentment of the brothers grew to hatred when Joseph shared his dreams with them. However, their hatred was based on the belief that Joseph thought he was better than his brothers. This may not be the case. Joseph received a message from God which caused his confidence level to go up. His faith in God was at an all-time high. The brothers thought they were hating the egomaniacal rantings of Joseph, when in fact, they were protesting a work of God.
  2. David had much the same experience with his brothers. Although he was the youngest of the family, he was the one chosen by God to be the next king of Israel. And although it seems that David received no special treatment from his family, surely some attention must have been paid to this unusual event. One of the most famous stories in the life of David gives us our story, though. When he heard the challenge of Goliath, David was filled with the confidence of God. He was the granted the faith to challenge the giant. But his brothers didn't see it that way. They thought their little brother had gotten too big for his breeches.

Now there are two things that we need to know/do. First of all, when you are filled with the confidence of God, stand for him and do what he asks. Pay no attention to those who may accuse you of being arrogant and headstrong. Do what God has called you to do. And secondly, when you are tempted to complain about the ego/vanity of someone else, think about whether or not their ego is of the flesh, of faith given by God.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Why I Do It

I was involved in Christian ministry for several years before I truly evaluated what I did, what I was trying to accomplish and why I did it. In many ways it was a waste of time. All that I accomplished before this self-evaluation was good, and my work was effective. But I had no focus. There was no understanding or purpose behind what I was doing.

This all changed the first time I really read Ephesians 4. Now I had read this Scripture dozens, maybe hundreds of times, but when I read God's plan for his work in it, my life and work were brought into clear focus.

"He gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ." (Ephesians 4.12-13 NKJV)

It is clear that God has a big picture mentality. You and I are part of his big picture. I get to be an evangelist and you get to be a pastor-teacher. Once we find our place in God's ministry-order we can begin to equip the saints. And then, once the saints- that is, Christian people- are equipped, they can begin doing the work of ministry. When the saints are doing ministry two things happen. First of all, new saints are added to the number. As we do our work for the glory of God, new men and women will come into the faith. Secondly, the edifying of the body of Christ serves to equip saints for ministry. That is, as we are equipped to do ministry, we realize that our ministry is to equip someone else.

All these thoughts were rambling around in my head when I came up with the three points that make up my philosophy of ministry. This is why I do it.
  1. Do evangelism. This is a hard one because I do not believe that I have the gift of evangelism. Each Christian is given specific gifts by God. My gifts do not include being and evangelist. However, that does not negate my responsibility to do the work of evangelism. I am called to take the message of the gospel to as many people in as many places as possible.
  2. Make disciples. Often Christians get the idea that the only work they are required to do is to make a convert. This is not the case. And I am sure that it is not so in my life. My job is not only to get an individual to make a declaration of faith in Christ. I am also responsible for helping disciple them. I am to encourage them to become more Christ-like.
  3. Develop Leaders. I am supposed to help increase the level of leadership in the church and the world, and the increase the effectiveness of the leaders I know. I am charged with equipping the saints so that they can be effective in ministry. Helping them become better leaders makes everyone (including myself) more effective.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Learning to Think

One of the biggest problems in our world is that there are too few people who are doing any thinking. We rely on other people to give us our news (which means that we only get what others want us to know). We then rely on a different set of people to tell us what is important. (This means that we our priorities get set somewhere else, by someone we don't even know.) And then we have a third set of 'experts' who analyze what is important so that we can understand it. And the bottom line is that we do not have to think about anything.

We are lazy! People do not read books because it is too hard. It takes too long to read a book. It is much easier to watch television. If I want news, I can get 2 minutes of headlines on the television morning news program right between the latest celebrity gossip, barbecue on a budget recipes and a discussion of the best color for a mother of the bride dress. News is hard. Current events are hard. Reading is hard. Thinking is hard!

Now many people will be offended by this. They will maintain that they think on a regular basis. But I want us to raise the standard on our brain work. I want to assert that thinking includes not only basic thoughts ("I must go to the bathroom." "I really like eggplant."), but also larger ideals. In fact, brain function should not be considered thinking unless it includes more than just basic information or knowledge.
  • Thinking includes recognition. Knowing what to name a thing is the first step in thinking. This is where must of us leave the thinking continuum.
  • Thinking includes discrimination. You are not thinking until you can recognize differences and values. Thinking includes comparing and contrasting things. It is hard to know how to do this, but it is crucial in the process of thinking.
  • Thinking also includes evaluation. When you move beyond seeing and recognizing, you can move into evaluating things. What does this mean? How important is it? What should I do about it?
  • Thinking is also about understanding. This is truly the hardest part of thinking. The work involved in understanding a thing may be the greatest thing that humans can aspire to.

Monday, October 8, 2007

Who Am I?

My story of faith is not very dramatic. There are no exotic conversion experiences. There were never any terrible addictions, lifestyles or sins to repent. I have always been like the older brother in the Prodigal Son story. While my friends and classmates were out 'sewing their wild oats' and wasting their time and money on 'riotous living' I was at home, following a Christian lifestyle.

Most of the sanity, security and consistency of my life is because of the influence of my mother. While still a teen she began to pray for a Christian mate. And although my father had grown up in church (and was called into the ministry) he was not an obvious choice for a godly husband. However, through the goodness of God and the faithfulness of my mother, they were married and began a life together in Christ.

It was into this environment that I was born. My earliest memories include attending church, prayer meetings, youth groups and Bible studies. I never had a period of rebellion. I was blessed to always be a part of a Christian family and a church that provided discipleship opportunities.

My life was on a pretty set and stable course as I entered college. I was studying political science with the objective of perhaps going to law school, but to definitely enter political life. I was a member of the University Democrats. I even ran for office one time in Penn Township. I did not win, but my life plan was pretty well mapped out. That was until three things happened.

First of all, I was in the Student Center at Ball State studying one day. I had picked a second floor lounge that was usually pretty quiet. After studying for a while I went to a window that overlooked the entrance to the student center and a lawn on the campus. I looked out on a rainy fall scene and saw one female student who was just leaving the student center. The day seemed so gloomy and she looked very lonely. I was just starting to feel sad for her when I heard God speaking to me. "I love her," he said. I was unsure of all the ramifications of that encounter with God, but I interpreted it to mean that he loved all people and he wanted me to help reach them.

This was all well and good, except that I was sure that being called by God was in my imagination. As a child I had always thought that being a preacher would be a great thing. I even played church when I was young. Surely, God was not calling me. He always calls people to do things they do not like. I would like being a preacher, so this could not be a call.

The second thing that happened took place shortly after that first call. I was attending a series of special worship services with some members of my church youth group. The speaker was the coolest guy I had ever met. He made Christianity important, and fun. I was inspired and changed. I wanted to do what he was doing. But again, I had doubts. I thought that maybe God was calling me, but surely he would not call me to something that could actually be fun. Once again I dismissed God's call as my imagination or wishful thinking.

The third time I heard God speaking was even less dramatic than the first two instances. It was the same year that the first two 'visitations' occurred. I was about 20 years old at the time. I was in my bedroom on the farm playing my guitar and enjoying a time of prayer and worship when I was suddenly transported (spiritually) into the presence of God. He made it so clear to me that I belonged to him and that I needed to answer his call.

And that was it. I committed myself that day to serve God with all my life and for all my life. I have never been embarrassed or ashamed of my call, or my life choices. I have never doubted God's call, his care or his concern for me. He has been faithful, and I will be faithful.

Sunday, October 7, 2007

Oops! We Did it Again

What is wrong with us? I mean we Americans? What are we thinking? Are we thinking? Here is the situation as I see it.

First of all, ten years ago Britney Spears became a superstar by singing a song that was too old for her (Hit me Baby, One More Time). The video became famous because although she was a teen-ager at the time (15??), she appeared to be very sexy. Her dress, her dance and her attitude were all very sexy. She was an overnight sensation. And against all odds, she seemed to maintain a 'good-girl' image, at least for awhile. There were a string of hits and television and video appearances that reinforced her position as pop star innocence with a naughty side. Songs like Oops, I Did It Again and Drive me Crazy reminded us of young love and sent teen and pre-teen girls into a frenzy. They bought the music, but unfortunately, they began to buy the image as well.

Then the wheels began to come off the cart. First there was the 24 hour marriage to her high school sweetheart, rumors of drug use and wild parties, and then the squeaky clean image was gone. By now Britney was an adult. And as we should have expected, she started to make adult mistakes. She married (her second marriage) one of her dancers. Everyone seemed puzzled by this. Then there was a reality series on MTV that focused on the sex lives of the pop star couple. Two children followed, and then all hell broke loose.

The couple broke up- which was unexpected by no one. Britney was spotted at parties, drinking, drugging and more. Pictures of Britney, always considered pretty, in various stages of immodest nakedness appeared all over the internet. But now it has all changed. Last week a judge ordered Britney to give her to children to her ex-husband. She has lost custodial rights with her children. And all of this happened before her 26th birthday.

But really, as sad as this story is, the worst part is still to come. Britney, who refuses to get help for her addictions, who has performed publicly in various stages of intoxication, and who has shaved her own head in an apparently substance-induced haze is still a star. Now, Britney's most recent record, Gimme More, has moved to number 3 on Billboard's Hot 100 chart. Last week, the same song, was the most downloaded song in America. It is Britney's biggest hit since Baby, One More Time.

The cynical side of me wonders if Britney has made the connection between her messed-up life and her record sales. I hope not. The conspiracy theorist in me wonders if all of the scandal, the trouble and the heartbreak have been orchestrated to a marketing advantage for Britney's career. I hope not. The pessimist in me wonders if Britney has done all of this on purpose for the sake of rejuvenating her career. Again, I hope not.

I think that the story of Britney Spears' fall is a tragedy. We should all learn from her the lessons of stardom and the dangers of self-importance. But most of us will never be stars. We will never have hit songs. But a whole lot of us are buying Britney. We have done this to her. We are doing it to her by watching the Britney update on the television news every day. We are ruining her life by loving the tabloid newspaper and magazine coverage of her every mistake. And now we are making it worse. By buying her music, we are buying Britney Spears. And when we buy Britney's music we are sending the message that this is all okay.

Friday, October 5, 2007

The Worst Movies Ever Made: A Mission Impossible

I keep a log of all the movies that I see. I have a number of reasons for doing this, but the most important is that there are a lot of movies that are not terrible, but they are also not memorable. I do not want to waste my time watching mediocre films more than once. It is completely possible that I can see a title at the video store, read the credits and the description of the film and not recognize it. However, when I get the movie home, I realize that I have seen it before. What a terrible waste of time.

My list of movies keeps me from repeating average movies, but it also reminds me of all the hours I've spent with horrible movies. I was reviewing this list of movies this week and made a short list of the really bad movies that I have seen in the last couple of years:
  • Vacancy
  • Blades of Glory
  • Number 23
  • The Messengers
  • American Dreamz
  • Roadhouse
  • The Descent
  • Benchwarmers

I know that I should have known better than to watch some of these. And I am sure that there were a lot more really bad movies that I could have seen. But really, aren't these bad enough? Here is what I have discovered: Bad movies are made only to make money. They generally fall into one of two categories. Either they are teen-age comedies like The Benchwarmers, or they are 'horror' movies like The Descent. The problem is that in this category the comedies aren't funny and the horror films aren't scary.

And this list does not include the worst movie of the last ten years. (It is probably the worst movie of all time.) I hate Mission: Impossible 2. I hate that movie so much that I could not bring myself to even think about Mission: Impossible 3. I continue to pray that there will never be a Mission: Impossible 4.

These really bad movies do nothing for our lives or our society. In fact, they make us worse than we should be. When we 'dumb-down' our entertainment, we 'dumb-down' ourselves and our culture. We all lose in this proposition. So, the next time someone invites you to a teen comedy or a horror flick, "just say 'no.'"

Thursday, October 4, 2007

The Fountain of God

So, I watched The Fountain. This is a movie from 2006 that stars Hugh Jackman as a scientist (among other things) and Rachel Weisz as his wife (and Queen Isabel). The conflict is that Izzi, the wife, has terminal cancer and the scientist/husband is trying to find a cure before she dies. It is a tragic story and a desperate search.

There are some complicating factors to this movie. Izzi is writing a story about Queen Isabel's search for the Edenic Tree of Life. Izzi's story is a different take on the quest for the fountain of youth. The one who finds this tree will control youth, life and more for eternity. Whenever Tom, the scientist- husband reads the story that his wife is writing, he puts himself in the story. His cancer-stricken wife becomes the queen, while Tom becomes her servant on the search.

There is also an unusual third story in which Tom becomes an astronaut in some future world. His space ship resembles a Christmas snow globe and he has no hair. But once again, he is consumed with the search for life, a cure for what killed, or is killing his wife.

It is sometimes difficult to sort out these stories, but they have one unifying theme: People do not want to die. There is a constant search for life among humans. If you need evidence of this, you need look no further than the proliferation of breast augmentation, bariatric and cosmetic surgeries. There are pills to make you more manly or perform more frequently. There are creams and lotions to minimize the effects of aging on the skin. All of these products and procedures are a quest for the fountain of life.

But, that is not all it is. In essence, our desire to live, to be young and to prosper are often just misplaced attempts to find God. Every human has one basic need. We spend our lives looking for ways to fulfill that need. We use drinks and substances to try to meet the need. We change careers, spouses, homes and cars to try to meet this most basic need. We have mid-life crises because we have not fulfilled the need. And when we realize that our life is passing us by and we still have not met this need, we try to extend our lives.

Now, try this on for size. The emptiness that you are trying to fill is the lack of God in your life. A relationship with God will make a terrific difference for you. This relationship has nothing to do with church, or rules and regulations. It is about getting your emotional life in line with God himself. That, my friend, is the Fountain of Youth, the Tree of Life.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Music Study vs. Team Sports

First of all, I am a sports fan. I love basketball. I am a fan of baseball. I am even learning to appreciate football. My favorite teams are all very dear to my heart. Therefore, what follows should not be construed to be anti-athletics, but rather a call to more support of music and the arts.

It is clear to me that the study of music is at least as valuable as participation in team sports at the local school level. This can be proven in a number of ways.
  1. Both activities, music and sports, teach discipline. The individual involved in both activities must practice to master his discipline, be it the cello or the jump shot. Hours of practice are required. Exercise and physical training are necessary to accomplish positive goals.
  2. Both activities teach participants about teamwork. One baseball player working by himself on a field is of no use without a team around him. Likewise, the altos must learn to sing at the right time and in the right key to blend with the rest of the choir.
  3. Persistence is a value of sports and music. A person who gives up to soon will never get a decent note out of their violin. In the same way, someone who does not continue practicing will never be able to kick a field goal.
  4. The importance of performance is taught in both activities. All music is designed for the listening pleasure of someone. In the same way, sports teams work hard so that they can perform for ever-larger crowds.
  5. Competition is taught by both. In athletics we see this readily. Every Friday night in the Fall there is a football contest to remind us competition. In the marching band, however, there is competition as well. The trumpet players compete against one another to see who will sit in the 'first chair.' The band competes against other bands to see who is the best.
  6. Both activities give a life long skill and appreciation. Here is where we may draw a distinction between music and sports, however. Although both music and sports can be loved for a lifetime, your body will only allow you to play defensive tackle for so long. You can participate in music for your whole life.

I do not hope to convert anyone by these statements. In fact, I would be pleased to just create a discussion. Let us consider the value of music to make our lives better, at all stages of life. Music should be more than just background noise while you wait in the dentist's office. Sports should not consume all our time and attention. Consider this a call for a discussion and a new balance.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

The Value of Music Study

I have been a life-long lover of the arts, and especially music. I recently came across some thoughts about the value of the study of music in schools, and for that matter, throughout life. Much of what follows here is a summation of that article (I have no references to provide, but will be happy to provide interested readers with a copy of the article.)

Although the following list is certainly not exhaustive, it begins to give us a picture of the value of music education. Before we get to those benefits, however, let me assuage a couple of fears or protests. First of all, although some students are more 'musically-inclined' than others, a general music education is important for all people, no matter the age. I can hear someone say, "But I am not interested in music. Why should I have to study it?" To that I could answer, "I am not interested in Biology, but it is important that I learn the basic concepts of science."

In a time when school boards everywhere are cutting funding for arts education and programs, it is important that constituents speak out in favor of music, dance, graphic arts and drama.

So, here are the four benefits of the study of music in school.
  1. The study of music helps students achieve success in school. Studies have consistently shown that students who include music study, either performance or appreciation, perform better on the standardized SAT. In addition, those who study music have higher levels of self-esteem and creativity.
  2. The study of music helps students develop intelligence. Brain function has been shown to increase with music training. In fact, one study suggests that music is more effective than computer training for enhancing abstract reasoning skills.
  3. The study of music helps students achieve success in society. The US Department of Education suggests that college bound students study music as a part of their preparation for higher education. Not only that, many engineers and designers working in Silicone Valley are practicing musicians.
  4. The study of music helps students achieve success in life. Music trains the individual to communicate and cooperate with a group. These are crucial skills in the 21st Century world. Discipline is required to be even a minimally competent musician. This trait is essential in the world of work and life.

Music is too important to neglect in our schools, or in our own lives. In a future entry I will develop this thought further to discuss how music groups in school are at least as valuable as sports teams.

Monday, October 1, 2007

The Sunshine Boys

I recently re-watched one of my favorite movies, The Sunshine Boys. There are a lot of reasons that I love this film so much...
  • Neil Simon is a great writer. His story and script are perfect.
  • Walter Matthau and George Burns are terrific as the curmudgeonly old comedians with a love-hate relationship.
  • The scenes and settings have a ring of authenticity.
  • This movie has a little of everything. It is great.

But, the biggest reason I love this movie, and the reason that I will continue watching it until I die, is for the joy. Lewis and Clark, the comedy team in the film, bring me great joy. I laugh at their comedy, yes. And I find the dialogue between and about them hilarious. But I smile the first time I see George Burns on the screen. I giggle when Walter Matthau cannot remember the name of the potato chips for his audition. I hit the ceiling when Matthau discusses what words are funny. "Words with a 'k' in them are funny."

This movie reminds me that life is good. There should be joy. I should enjoy life.

Toward the end of the movie the Matthau character has a heart attack and a reconciliation of the two protagonists is in order. It is a poignant moment when the two men, partners for so many years and now enemies for a few, realize that they are one another's only friends. It is a bittersweet thing to realize that you have been alienating the only one who ever cared. There is laughter and joy, but there are some serious lessons as well.

Science now tells us that laughter can be helpful in recovering from illness or surgery. May I recommend the Sunshine Boys. They are true. They are honest. And they are funny.