Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Church Goals Update

At the beginning of 2008 I set forward some goals for my churches. I (we) have met with rather mixed success. Here is my end of the year analysis.

  • Make 2008 a year of prayer. This was an unqualified success. People are praying more than ever. We gather at the altar on Sundays for prayer. We have new prayer request and reporting opportunities and weekly prayer lessons and requests emails.
  • Increase spiritual sensitivity. This goal has been mixed. Many people are more in tune with God spiritually. But many more are not.
  • Reach 10 new, unchurched people. Almost is the answer on this one. Between the two churches that I pastor we have eight new people in worship each week.
  • Create and maintain peace and stability. We are on the way. There have been many changes implemented that are working toward this goal. Within six months I will be able to declare: Mission Accomplished.
  • Increase biblical literacy. I am not sure how to measure this. I think that we have not made a lot of progress on this one. People do not bring Bibles to church. I see very little evidence of outside Bible study, etc. I will keep working on this one.
  • Establish new groups and develop new leaders. We have established three Faith Teams. They are meeting on a regular basis. We are continuing to train new leaders. The leaders that are already volunteering continue to do excellent work.
  • Become "that" church in the area. I am not sure what I was thinking, but I know that it hasn't happened.
  • To complete the ramp/bell project at Pretty Prairie. The ramp and new entrance is finished. Now we just have to do the bell.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Favorite Books of 2009

As I continue reviewing and evaluating the year that was 2008, I offer these titles as some of the best books that I read in 2008. So let me begin with my disclaimers:
  1. These are not the best books of 2008. These books are the ones that entertained, informed, inspired or changed me the most.
  2. These books were not necessarily written or released in 2008. They were just read by me for the first time this year.
  3. There are not 10 books on my list this time around. I have some excuses for that. First of all, it was a bad year for the Miller family. There was a financial crisis, a couple of pretty serious health issues, a very busy schedule and a very silly Lenten fast. (I did not read anything but the Bible during Lent.)
  4. The list appears in no particular order. The first on the list is not necessarily my favorite.

Here are my favorite books of the year.

  • Candy Girl, by Diablo Cody
  • Red Letter Christians, by Tony Campolo
  • Jesus for President, by Shane Claiborne and Chris Haw
  • Born Standing Up, by Steve Martin
  • Robert Hardy's Seven Days, by Charles Sheldon
  • The Path of Celtic Prayer, by Calvin Miller
  • Sit, Walk, Stand, by Watchman Nee
  • The Annotated Godfather, by Jenny M Jones
  • Picasso at the Lapin Agile, by Steve Martin

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Movies I Still Want to See

I have gotten very far behind in my movie viewing. I am watching fewer movies and reviewing fewer films as well. I am hoping to make some adjustments to that in the new year. To that end, here is a list of movies that I would like to see, that I have not.
  • Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull
  • Talk to Me
  • Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian
  • The X Files
  • Get Smart
  • 21
  • 88 Minutes
  • Transsiberian
  • The Bank Job
  • Righteous Kill
  • Appaloosa
  • The Wackness
  • Henry Poole is Here
  • Kill Bill, Volume 2
  • Awake My Soul
  • Synechdoche, New York
  • Nothing Like the Holidays
  • Cadillac Records
  • Australia
  • The Boy in Striped Pajamas
  • The Secret Lives of Bees
  • The Duchess
  • Lakeview Terrace
  • Nobel Son
  • W
  • The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
  • Frost/Nixon
  • The Visitor
  • Burn After Reading
  • The Reader
  • Vicky Christina Barcelona
  • Doubt
  • I'm Not There
  • Slumdog Millionaire
  • Gran Torino
  • A Christmas Tale
  • Rachel Getting Married
  • Valkyrie
  • Young at Heart
  • Leatherheads
  • Snow Angels

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

The Practices of a Christian: Baptism

The Bible, particularly the New Testament, is filled with admonitions for followers of Christ to be baptized. In fact, the Gospels begin with John the Baptist preaching and baptizing people in the Jordan River. He encouraged his followers to go into the water of the Jordan as a sign of their repentance and a “washing away” of their sins. A highlight in the story of Jesus is when he went to the river to meet his cousin and to be baptized. Although he was not a sinner, Jesus submitted himself to baptism.

After the resurrection of Christ, the meaning of baptism changed for Christians. There was still the washing element, but now we have the symbolism of being buried with Christ and raised again to new life. This becomes especially significant for those Christian traditions that practice adult baptism by immersion.

In our tradition we have options. We believe that adult believers can be baptized. We also believe that it is a good thing for Christian parents to baptize their children. These children are brought into the faith through baptism. We baptize our children with the prayer that they will live faithfully and someday receive and accept the Christian faith for themselves.

Many traditions have various baptismal practices and methods. For me it is simple; if God calls you to do it, you should do it. Therefore, we practice baptism by immersion (dunking), sprinkling, or even pouring. The significance of baptism is not in the action, or the amount of water used, but in the grace of God that works miraculously.

Baptism is a necessity for those who follow Christ. It is not an option. We are not to get baptized if we feel like it. We must get baptized. It is an act of obedience. In Acts 2.38 Peter says, “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” The command to be baptized is a command. To be completely obedient to Christ, you must submit to his baptism.

Here is one final note: Baptism is a one-time event. Many Christians feel that they should be re-baptized because of some sin or experience in back sliding. Others believe that their infant baptism was not effective because they do not remember it. However, we should always remember that it is God that works in our baptisms. Whenever you were baptized, a miracle took place. God was at work and your baptism was effective and sufficient. Ephesians 4.5 reminds us that we have only “one Lord, one faith, one baptism.” When you feel that you need another baptism it may be because you question your own faith, rather than the grace of God.

Let me conclude with one admonition: Go and sin no more. Come and be baptized.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Another Christmas Thought

"Help each one of us to keep Christmas alive in our hearts, that it may continue to glow, to shed its warmth, to speak its message during the bleak days of winter."
Peter Marshall

This prayer spoke right into my heart when I read it. I cannot imagine how many times I have become frustrated with the commercialism and busy-ness of Christmas. I am sure that I cannot remember how many times I have been called a Scrooge, or been accused of being "grinchy." Christmas seems to do that to me.

First of all, Christmas comes at the wrong time of year in the northern hemisphere. It is hard to be happy and joyous when you are cold, all the time. I could be much more jolly if it were warmer out doors.

Secondly, the days are too short. When I get up in the morning, it is dark. When I am finished at work, it is dark. And in my neighborhood when it is not dark it is often gloomy, overcast or snowing. (It seems to snow everyday.) I need some sunshine. Now!

Third, there are just too many things to do. There are too many responsibilities, parties, concerts, church events. It is too much. By the time Christmas comes I am very tired.

But then Peter Marshall prays that we would keep Christmas alive. I am all for that. I will do what I can. I will be less scroogy and grinchy and a little more linusy. How about that?

Sunday, December 21, 2008

My Favorite Albums of 2008

Here's round two of my favorites of 2008. This time it is my favorite albums of the year. Again, let me preface my list by offering the following disclaimers:
  1. These are not necessarily the best albums. They are my favorites. They do not even have to be good. So there.
  2. These albums were not necessarily new in 2008. But, I heard them for the first time in 2008.
  3. I do not think that my opinions are better, more well-rounded, or more commendable than anyone else's. But they are mine.
  4. These appear in no particular order.

So, here is my list:

  • Amy Winehouse- Back to Black. (After hearing everything about Amy Winehouse I really tried to not like this record. I couldn't.)
  • Bob Dylan- Tell Tale Signs.
  • Bright Eyes- Four Winds.
  • Juno- Soundtrack.
  • Once- Soundtrack.
  • Eagles- Long Road Out of Eden.
  • Ray Charles- The Spirit of Christmas.
  • Psalters- Divine Liturgy of the Wretched Exiles.
  • Andrew Peterson- Behold the Lamb of God. (I have loved this album for several years, but just went to the concert and remembered how beautiful it is. It deserves to be on the list.)
  • Willie Nelson- Moment of Forever.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

My 10 Favorite Movies of 2008

Its time to do my year-end evaluations. I know that I may be the only one interested in these lists, but they do help me to think critically about the ways in which I spend my time. So, here is my list of my best movies of the year. But first, my disclaimers.

These movies are not necessarily the best ones of 2008. They are movies that have moved me, entertained me or made me think more than any other movies this year.

These movies were not necessarily released in 2008. They are all new to me, however. I watched them all for the first time in 2008.

I try very hard to not be influenced by what is popular. Consequently, I may be biased against the Hollywood blockbuster. But then again, maybe not.

So... here's the list:
  • Once
  • Waitress
  • Kill Bill, volume 1
  • Maria Full of Grace
  • Harlan County USA
  • Gone Baby Gone
  • Hard Candy
  • Dan in Real Life
  • Be Kind Rewind
  • In Bruges

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

A Christmas Thought

I have been reading some prayers written by Peter Marshall for my devotional times this month. In one of these he prays, "May we not spend Christmas, but keep it."

When we spend things they get away from us. We spend our money, and then it is gone. When we spend time, we are often wasting it. Spending is a losing, an eliminating.

Unfortunately, I have spent many Christmases. O, I convince myself that by my busy-ness I am fully enjoying the season. I attend all the programs, concerts and activities. I watch movies, read stories, sing carols, listen to the Messiah. I go shopping like a mad mad. I spend money that I do not have. I attend parties, reunions and celebrations. I add extra observances and services. On top of all that I want to serve others. I get all charitable at the holidays. I want to give. I want to provide. I want to help and do. And then Christmas is gone. And then I realize I have not enjoyed it at all.

Spending Christmas makes me think that for this year I must do more, give more, spend more and celebrate more than last year. I get all stressed out and in the end I have not enjoyed Christmas at all.  I have spent Christmas and it is gone.

This year I am going to try to keep Christmas. I will focus on it. I will think about it. I will ponder the incarnation. I will think about the gift of God to us, his son. I will consider the virgin and her husband, giving birth in a barn. I will ponder the mystery of the visitors, the angels, the dreams, the songs, the visions. I will do my best to keep Christmas.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Thoughts on the New Year

Time flies when you’re havin’ fun.

Time waits for no man.

Time is on my side.

Time keeps on slippin’, slippin’, slippin’ into the future.

Does anybody really know what time it is?

Does anybody really care?

Times a-wastin’.

He’s got time to kill.

It’s the end of time.

The times, they are a-changin’.

Time heals all wounds.

Time is running out.

It was the best of times.

It was the worst of times.

It was the time of our lives.

It was the life of our times.

Do not squander time.

Live one day at a time.

And now it all starts again…

Thursday, December 11, 2008

United and Untied

I am a member, actually a pastor, in the United Methodist Church. One of my favorite jokes is that the Free Methodists are as free as the United Methodists are united. It is funny, but it is true. There is not a lot that unites our world-wide fellowship of churches, missions, members. We cover the entire theological perspective. We are loving and grouchy. We are open and closed-off. We are biblical and open to "fresh moves of the Spirit."

But, shouldn't we United Methodists be united? In fact, shouldn't all Christians be united? We all have the same faith system. We believe the same stuff (essentially, anyway). So we ought to have some generic affection for one another. We should be looking out for each other. We're all on the same team after all.

The key, for United Methodists and for all Christians, is the central point of our faith. As long as we all agree to focus on the story, the meaning, the message and the significance of Jesus, we should be able to get along. When we have Jesus in the right place we will be fine.

However, its hard to keep Jesus where he goes. We would much rather think of ourselves and our issues than to consider the will of God. Shame on us!

The old cliche says that there is "no 'I' in team." Likewise, there is no "I" in church or Jesus. We need to get over ourselves and our agendas and focus on Jesus and what it is that he wants for our lives, our families and our churches.

A while back I heard someone speaking on this very topic. He said that we should always keep Jesus in the center. He emphasized the importance of the cross of Christ and pointed out that the cross is shaped like a "t". This semantic memory trick also illustrates an important truth.

When we have the order correct, when I am in the right place and Jesus is in the right place, I can experience being united.

However, when I get out of order, when I put Jesus in the wrong place, that's when I am untied.

The Cold

The cold
gets old
must hold
in the fold
finding gold
to be sold
must be told
that the cold
gets old.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

The Funniest Seinfeld Episodes

Seinfeld is without a doubt (in my mind at least) the funniest television program of our time. The ensemble cast is perfect, the situations range from the mundane to the absurd, but what makes this such a great show is the writing. What follows is a list of my favorite episodes (in no particular order) (except that The Chinese Restaurant is the funniest half hour ever).
  • The Chinese Restaurant. I still tell the host at a restaurant that my name is Cartwright.
  • The Boyfriend. That was "one magic loogey."
  • The Parking Garage.
  • The Stranded.
  • The Outing. "Not that there's anything wrong with that."
  • The Smelly Car. A scary thought... O can get separated from B.
  • The Marine Biologist. "The seas were angry..."
  • The Gymnast. I will still eat anything that is on "top of the doiley."
  • The Big Salad. This is a new way of thinking about who gets credit.
  • The Burning.
  • The Little Kicks. Even I can dance better than that.


In winter the snow falls from the sky.
Fragile flakes around me lie.
The snow mounts up in drifts so high,
While still falling from the sky.

In spring the rain pours down
Creating puddles on the ground,
'Til all the world is almost drowned
From the spring rains pouring down.

Summer brings the sunshine fair,
Shining 'round me everywhere
Filling the world with its golden flair.
Summer brings the sunshine fair.

In autumn brightly colored leaves fall;
Heaped in piles around us all.
The piles grow ever more tall
Because the leaves continue to fall.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

How to Think Like a Christian

It is sometimes hard to be a thinking Christian. After all, we are admonished over and over again to "have faith," to "just believe" or to "trust God and his Word." I am not opposed to faith, trusting God, or the Bible, but am against anything that keeps anyone from thinking.

Here are some thoughts.
  • God is the one who gave humans brains. It is God who gave us the ability to think and to reason. We are the only creatures- so far as we know- with the cognition, rationality and discernment to think in the ways that we do. I think that means God wants us to use our brains.
  • The Bible is filled with admonitions for those who would follow God to study, to think, to improve their lives and their minds.
  • St. Paul, author of a huge chunk of the Bible, was one of the great thinker-philosophers of all time. He never had a conflict with his mind and his spirit.
  • There are no declarations in the Bible that anyone should diminish the importance of education, knowledge or even philosophy.
  • Historically, the church has been at the forefront of efforts to educate all people. 
There are some prejudices (some of them deserved) among people concerning Christians. Most of these have to do with our intellectual commitment. Consider the following:
  • Those who are not Christians, including atheists, agnostics, academicians and others, assume that all Christians are uninformed and apathetic toward world events or religious concerns.
  • Main line Protestant Christians, including United Methodists, Presbyterians, United Church of Christ, Lutherans, Episcopalians, American Baptists and others, assume that evangelical Christians are less committed to pursuits of the mind than they are.
  • Evangelical Christians often believe that Charismatics and Pentecostals are not as bright, as informed or as interested in educational and intellectual stimulation as they should be.
Of course all of these are often false. But unfortunately they are often right. Christians have been afraid to think because it might challenge their faith. Additionally, we have been too lazy to engage our brains. It is much easier to let someone else think and then to let them tell us what to believe.

All Christians should reject stereotypes that are less than appealing. We should work hard at growing in faith and in intellect.

Christmas Spirit

I've been visited by the Ghost of Christmas Past

And he reminded me that

Things are better than they were.

In days gone by,

No matter how I tried

I always ended in some kind of err.


The Ghost of Christmas Present came

And showed me how I tend to blame

Someone else when problems come.

Now I know what I've got.

There are several faults

That need to be overcome.


The visit of the Future Ghost,

The one that I dreaded most,

Proved an encouragement to me.

Things can be changed;

I don't have to be the same.

A New Year's new leaf can be turned, you see.

Monday, December 8, 2008

The Angel Said

The angel said to Mary,
“You’ll have a little boy.”
The angel said to Joseph,
“He’ll bring lots of joy.”
The angel said to the shepherds,
“Worship the King.”
The angel said to everyone,
“Lift your voice and sing.”
Sing Hallelujah, Hallelujah.
Sing Hallelujah. Glory to the King.

Weekly Prayer Thought

...praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, being watchful to this end with all perseverance and supplication for all the saints... Ephesians 6.18

I had just come to my prayer time when it occurred to me that I had no idea what to pray about. I did not have a list of concerns or needs that should be attended to. I was at a loss for what to thank the Lord for. I was not necessarily unprepared to pray. I just didn't know what to pray about.

There was another time when I didn't know how to pray about a particular situation. A dear family member, a faithful Christian, was deathly ill. The medical team attending to her needs had given up all hope for any recovery. However, I was not ready for her to die. Even though she had lived a full and happy life, and even though I was sure that she was going to enjoy eternity in heaven with her Lord, I wanted her to get better. I wanted to pray that she not die, even though I knew if she lived her quality of life would be greatly diminished.

On another occasion, I was faced with a terrible decision. There was great conflict in my church and I knew that either way I went, there would be many feelings hurt on both sides. Again, I didn't know how to pray about the issues. No one seemed to be wrong.

There are times, as these examples illustrate, that we just do not know how we should pray. Our wishes and desires are not necessarily bad, but we do not know for sure that they are what God wants. It is in those times that we need to lay claim to "praying always in the Spirit." We need to just pray. Pray in whatever direction God takes you. Let the Holy Spirit be your intercessory partner.

Many people believe that this verse is an encouragement to pray in tongues. Although that is certainly a possibility, it is not required. We should be listening to God and open to his will for our lives and our prayers.

PRAYER: Help me when I don't know what or how to pray. Allow my relationship with you to be so strong and so intimate that I can always come to you, regardless of my state of mind or my desires. Amen.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Mary's Song: Luke 1.46-55

I worship the Lord,
and my heart rejoices in my Savior.
He has noticed me-
he knows how humble I am;
And from now on, everyone will call me blessed.
The great God has done a great thing in me-
Praise his name.
He is gracious to all who love him
in every generation forever.
He can be strong and punish the haughty.
He brings down the proud
and exalts the humble.
He feeds the hungry
and ignores the complaints of the rich.
God helps his people when they remember him
even as he did Abraham and our fathers
and all their seed forever.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Mary's Doubts

My friends are gone.
They have left me alone.
I’m not sure motherhood is for me.
It seems that without friends
That the world will end.
I don’t think I want this to be.

My back is sore.
I can’t touch the floor.
I ache from head to toe.
One minute I need rest,
And I’m cranky the next.
All my problems no one can know.

All the people in town
They look and they frown;
They believe what I’ve said is untrue.
They’re not afraid to shout,
They sneer and they doubt.
And me? I’m feeling blue.

Classic Christmas Story Archetypes

The Bible says that there is nothing new under the sun. How true. I am reminded of that every Christmas time. We love the Christmas movie in our house. Yes, I said the Christmas movie. There is a very limited selection in the actual story that is included in Christmas movies. This is not unlike the Christmas album that every singer is obliged to release at least once in their careers. They sing all the same songs that everyone else has already sung. It is nothing new.

There are some actors that are associated with Christmas movies. Think about Bing Crosby. Bing made Holiday Inn, White Christmas, Going My Way. He was a Christmas institution. In recent years we have Tim Allen making a bid for Christmas movie immortality. Allen is in all the Santa Clause movies and Christmas with the Kranks. In the last few years we see Vince Vaughn in Fred Claus and now Four Christmases. But, by and large, most actors make the plunge to the Christmas movie genre.

The problem with Christmas movies is that there just are not that many stories in them. There is not a lot of creativity.
  • There are the stories about the "evil character who finally gets the Christmas spirit." This is where we get all the Christmas Carol and Scrooge movies. There are way too many variations on this one to name.
  • There are stories of "oppressed or poor people who survive and overcome" because of the true, giving nature of Christmas. Think It's a Wonderful Life.
  • There are all the "family is wonderful, and yet I hate them" Christmas movies. In this genre we can think of Christmas Vacation, Four Christmases, Christmas with the Kranks.
  • Then there are the "through the eyes of a child" Christmas movies. Here we can reminisce and enjoy A Christmas Story, Prancer and Meet Me in St. Louis.

Think about your favorite Christmas movie. Where does it fit in?

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Four Christmases for Christmas

Let me begin by saying that Four Christmases is not the worst Christmas movie ever made. However, it certainly does not get into the upper half in terms of quality either. It is filled with pretty people doing silly things that are sometimes amusing. There are mishaps all around, everyone gets to spend the holiday together (whether they want to or not), and by the end a lesson is learned. It will not spoil the movie one whit if I reveal that everyone lives happily ever after. That's what's supposed to happen in Christmas movies, after all.

The film is not lacking for star power. In fact, there are rarely movies made with this many Oscar and Tony winning actors. Every scene reveals a new superstar.

The story centers around Reese Witherspoon as Kate, and Vince Vaughn as Brad. Kate and Brad are two very successful and good looking people who have worked very hard to have fun in life and to meet their own needs. Each year, rather than facing their dreaded families, they plan a vacation together. That is until this Christmas. This year the airport was fogged in and they couldn't leave. They were going to be stuck having Christmas with all four parents- in four different homes.

First there is Robert Duvall as Brad's father. If you can imagine a redneck family, this is where Brad came from. His two brothers are ultimate fighters and take great pleasure in beating up and humiliating Brad. They are jealous of his success, but no one seems to see this and they all are miserable.

Then Brad and Kate move on to Kate's mother's house. Mary Steenburgen has this role. She is self-absorbed and currently infatuated with her pastor. Kate has to endure one embarrassment after another at the hands of her family. Kate and Brad wind up playing parts in the church's nativity play which only bothers Kate more.

Next they move on to Brad's mother, played by Sissy Spacek. She is a new-age airhead who has taken up with Brad's best friend from high school. Brad is appropriately repulsed by their relationship and all their efforts to seem "normal."

Finally, they move to Kate's father's home on Christmas night. Kate's father, played by Jon Voight, seems to be the only normal relative in the family. He is calm, sensible and has even included his ex-wife and Pastor Phil to the celebration.

It is hard to believe that all this could happen in one day, but it is a movie after all. Things do not have to be realistic. But here is the real issue for me. Kate and Brad are so embarrassed by their families that they completely reject them emotionally. They do not want to spend time with them, nor be influenced by them. In the process, they miss out on many of the positive aspects of family life.

Many people I know are just like this. They want to run away from their homes, their families, their backgrounds. They want to invent new "cool" identities so they will not be saddled with the humiliation that is family.

Here is my suggestion. Rather than be embarrassed by and reject your family we all should embrace and redeem our families. There are good things in each family member. Let's focus on those. And even if there are not good things in our families, we should work toward creating good in them. And that's not a bad plan for this Christmas.

Winter on the Creek

The snow doesn't fall as often, or as softly there
As it does in romantic places like Aspen or Tahoe.
But when the wind blows cold, breath freezes in the air
And whispers ring for miles above the snow.

The sun shines brighter and more often in the arctic cold.
The bright morning glare on the mirrored snow and ice
Is unbearable. It all makes everyone a little more old.
But winter rages on while everyone and everything else dies.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

A New Moral Code?

I have written often here about how Christians have their morals all messed up. We are not afraid to point to the sins of homosexuals, pedophiles and polygamists, but shrink back from the more common and problematic sexual sins of infidelity, divorce and sex trafficking. I do not want to be misunderstood, I believe that all sexual sins are bad. As a Christian I affirm that God ordained people to have sexual relationships only in the context of a committed, exclusive marriage.

But the bigger problem is that Christians have focused only on sexual sins when considering morals. This cannot be. This was brought to my attention this week in an article by Brian McLaren.

In an analysis of what he terms "economic fundamentalism," McLaren references "the kind of religious fundamentalism that equates morality with sexuality." It is sad that Christians have forgotten, or at least ignored all the other elements of a Christian morality except for the sexual parts.
  • Peace. Christians should be advocating for peace on earth (all year long).
  • Prosperity. I hesitate to use the word prosperity, but in this context I am meaning that it is ridiculous for people anywhere in the world, and certainly in America, to be in poverty.
  • Health. Can we be a moral people if we ignore the health care needs of large parts of our population?
  • Education. One of the fundamentals of success in life is ensuring that everyone is educated.
There are many more aspects to morality, but that should get you started. Do not be suckered into this idea that moral issues = sexual issues. It is way more than that.

Christmas Questions

Were you born in December,

Is that the right time of year?

Were your parents lonely

With all your family and angels near?

Did the shepherds come singing;

What did you hear?
Were you born in a barn?
The story is so unclear.

But you came and you gave

And you stayed

Before you went away.

The story begins

When God put on skin

To live and die in our place.


Was it cold outside

On the night you were born?

Did you come in the evening,

The afternoon or the morning?
I don’t know the answers;

I might never know the truth.

Except that I am certain

Of a few things about you.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Consistent Christianity

Hypocrisy. It is a leading cause for those who are not Christians to stay that way. In addition, there are many who call themselves Christian who leave the faith because of the contradictions- real or imagined- in other Christians. There are even many Christians who recognize hypocrisy in others and try hard to avoid the tendency and the violator. It is one of our greatest problems.

Several years ago there were several high-profile cases of hypocrisy in the church. There were allegations and many of them were ultimately proven to be true.
  • Jim Bakker sold more time at his resort than was available and had an affair with a woman who was not his wife.
  • Jimmy Swaggart had mysterious liaisons with a prostitute and then refused the discipline and correction of his denominational leaders.
  • Oral Roberts claimed to have had a vision that he would die if he did not raise a large sum of money for his ministry.
  • Robert Tilton threw prayer requests in the trash after taking the money out of envelopes from supporters.
  • Larry Lea was accused of some shady fundraising to support his ministry and lifestyle.

Those are all terrible accusations, and if true are certainly a black eye on the face of the Christian church. But that's not all. Recent months have only seen an increase in the number of prominent Christian leaders involved in dubious activities.

  • Todd Bentley, a Canadian evangelist leading a celebrated revival in Florida announced that God had led him to leave the revival just before it was revealed that he and his wife would be separating. That came to light just before Bentley's admission of "emotional" infidelity with a female staff member.
  • Ted Haggard solicited gay prostitutes for sex and used drugs with them.
  • Randy and Paula White announced that they were divorcing (apparently for no good reason) just before Paula took a job at a church in another state. Since their announcement the church that they co-pastor in Tampa has filed for bankruptcy.
  • Victoria Osteen, wife of Joel, was accused of assaulting a flight attendant over insignificant issues in a first class cabin. (Osteen was acquitted of the charges.)
  • Thomas Wesley Weeks III, after beating his evangelist wife and being sentenced to community service for that crime, was led hand-cuffed from his church for being delinquent on mortgage payments.

I'm depressed. That is a terrible list. No wonder so many non-Christians are skeptical of the church. We have a checkered history, to say the least. But there is good news. For every Barry Bonds who cheats and alienates others, there is a Cal Ripken who plays by the rules and is very consistent. I am going to do my best to be a Cal Ripken. I am going to be looking for Cal Ripkens all around me.

Come and Worship

Come and worship. Come and worship.
Worship Christ the newborn King.

Come and worship. Come and worship.
Worship Jesus Christ the King.

Come and worship. Come and worship
The Prince of peace and King of kings.

Come and worship. Come and worship
The Lord of life and Almighty King.

Monday, December 1, 2008

The Story Begins

Were you born in December;
Is that the right time of year?
Were your parents lonely
With family and angels near?
Did the shepherds come singing?
What did you hear?
Were you born in a barn?
The story is unclear.

But you came and you gave;
And you stayed before you went away.
The story begins
When God puts on skin;
To live and die in our place.

Was it cold outside
On the day you were born?
Did you come in the evening,
The afternoon or the morning?
I don’t know the answers-
I might never know the truth;
Except that I am certain
Of a few things about you.

Prayer of the Week

Now it came to pass in those days that He went out to the mountain to pray, and continued all night in prayer to God. And when it was day, He called His disciples to Himself; and from them He chose twelve whom He also named apostles. Luke 6.12-13

I have never been one who has been overly obsessed with a legalistic approach to prayer. That is, although I am a firm believer in prayer, I do not think that there are certain approaches, practices or formulas that are more important, or more effective than others. I think that praying is more important than how you pray. The fact that prayer is taking place is more significant than how much time you spend in prayer.

With that disclaimer out of the way, however, let's be certain that we notice this important principle illustrated in the life of Jesus. Sometimes there is no substitute for deep, personal and lengthy prayer. Jesus did a couple of things in this passage.

First of all, he went out to pray. There was a habit that Jesus was in his prayer life. He had a procedure, a place, a pattern where prayer was concerned. He did it so much that he developed a discipline.

Secondly, it appears that he went alone. Jesus often kept his disciples and other followers close at hand. But there were times when he went to pray, that he went alone. We could learn a lot from this example of solitude. We do not always have to be on display for others to see.

Finally, He prayed all night. There were no shortcuts to this prayer. It took time to accomplish what Jesus wanted in his prayer. Throughout the gospels we see that Jesus prayed all night here, before calling the disciples, and in other places- before beginning his ministry and before the crucifixion, for example.

You and I may need to pray for extended periods of time as well. Do not short change your prayers, or the Lord.

PRAYER: Help me to pray, Lord. Help me to know how I should spend my time in prayer. Give me patience and perseverance to pray as I should. Reward me with your presence and with the commitment to continue in prayer. In the name of Jesus I pray. Amen.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

How to Think Like a Christian About Changing the World

It's too big a topic. It is definitely too big a challenge. There is no way that Christians- or anyone for that matter- can legitimately think that they will change the world. There is too much world that needs to be changed and I am only one person, after all. Who do I think I am?

There is a lot to do. There are AIDS orphans, starving refugees, global warming, racial profiling, sexual slavery, domestic abuse, drug addiction, disease, natural disasters, political oppression, civil unrest, rampant crime, imperialistic regimes, pirates on the high seas, and if that isn't enough, sometimes I get a hangnail. Sometimes I just want to give up. 

All too often that is just what happens. We know that bad things happen and that there are injustices all around the world, including our own neighborhoods, but we insulate ourselves from the consequences and the implications of it.

So when the infomercial about the starving children comes on the television, I change the channel as quickly as I can so I do not have the opportunity to get uncomfortable. When someone reminds me how much food I waste while others are dying of starvation, I rationalize that I could not send my leftovers to Africa anyway. What am I supposed to do, anyway?

First of all, we need to change the way we think. It was Charles Sheldon in his novel, In His Steps, who coined the question, What would Jesus do? We need to start thinking like Jesus thinks. We need to consider the needs, desires, hurts and hungers of others. We need to think about those in our homes, in our communities and around the world.

We should be thinking about how our actions effect others. We should think about how our lack of action effects others. You and I should begin being thoughtful about all that we do. Let us consider whether our actions are consistent with those of Jesus.

Secondly, like Jesus, we ought to begin placing the needs of others before our own. Jesus taught that the Son of Man came to serve others. We should be serving others. We need to be putting the needs of others before our own needs.

We also need to be consistent in our lives. It is not enough to think about changing the world. We need to do more than think of others' needs on Sundays. We must live lives of service on a regular basis. There is a great need for consistency in our lives.

We can never get the idea that our efforts are insignificant. Changing the world will take a long time. It will seem like nothing is happening. Do not give up. Do not think that you are not making a difference. The world is changed one life at a time. Our efforts are measured one day at a time. Remember that Martin Luther King, Jr. was not the great national civil rights leader when he preached his first sermon. It took time.

Finally, all those who would make a difference in the world must be committed to a life of changing the world. That is, we cannot get bored with our task. We must not be distracted when things get difficult. We can never quit, no matter how long change takes. We cannot waver even if we do not see the change in our life times.

Friday, November 28, 2008


What is wrong with our world? I know that things are not exactly great right now. We are involved in two wars that we cannot win. Our economy is in the toilet and no one seems to know how to fix it, or even if it can be fixed. There is turmoil all over the world. Our families are going to pot. There is a consistent (constant?) threat of terrorism everywhere we go. All of this leads to what I call an atmosphere of fear, or an atmosfear.

In America we elected a new president, from a different party than the current administration, and we all celebrate and look forward to one of the greatest signs of American freedom and democracy: the peaceful transition of power. The whole world is celebrating a new day of policy in America. And yet, in the USA we have an atmosfear.

Consider these signs:
  • In the weeks immediately following the election gun sales skyrocketed in anticipation of more restrictive laws in the new administration.
  • Talk of assassinations and terrorist attacks have increased everywhere.
  • White people have become paranoid about how the new government will try to "get back at them" or "even the scales."
  • Many people that I know are "afraid" about what the future holds.
I have a couple of thoughts. First of all, I am afraid that much of the fear that many are experiencing is a ruse. It is code language for a subtle racism. People are afraid because they are white, and whether they realize it or not, they are exhibiting a bit of prejudice. There is nothing to fear from a democratically elected administration in the USA.

Secondly, atmosfear is the calling card of certain political elements that have had a lot of control of events over the last seven- eight years. As long as people are afraid, they can be manipulated. As long as we think things will get worse, we can be controlled.

I, for one, am tired of being afraid. Perhaps there are cases when fear is a wise state to be in, but fear is one step better than paranoid. Paranoid is just a short trip away from exhausted. I am already too tired to get paranoid. And although it may not always be the wisest choice, to the best of my ability I am not going to be afraid. I am going to try my best to live my life with joy.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Music: One More Reason

Here's one more reason to listen to music. It is good for you. A recent study found that happy music is good for your arteries ( That is, when you here a happy song your body responds in a favorable way. When you are filled with joyful music your arteries actually expand. This allows the blood to flow more freely and decreases the likelihood of heart disease and heart attack.

In this sense, music can cause the body to behave in exactly the opposite way that stress does. Stress tends to restrict blood flow in the arteries and veins increasing the possibility of heart difficulties. Happy music, like laughter (, actually makes you healthier.

Now you have all the proof you need. Listen to some good music and have a good life.

Monday, November 24, 2008

What I Believe About the Virgin Birth

One of the most important elements of the Nativity story that we Christians celebrate each year is the significance of the virgin birth of Jesus. It is central not only to our understanding of Christmas, but to our belief in the incarnation. The incarnation is the doctrine that teaches us that God took the form of humanity in the person of Jesus. Philippians 2.5-11 gives a great perspective on the incarnation. And although the incarnation is the most significant thing that we get from the virgin birth, it is not the only thing.

The virgin birth is prophesied in Isaiah. The prophet tells the people that a virgin will conceive and bring forth a son (Isaiah 7.14). In the Gospels we learn that this prophecy was fulfilled in Mary, the mother of Jesus. Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit. There was not a human father. Joseph, the betrothed husband of Mary, would serve as an adoptive, or surrogate, father for Jesus, but Jesus was literally the Son of God.

This event was so significant that many have chosen to exalt Mary as a “blessed mother.” Two cautions should be observed here. First of all, Catholics and others have sometimes exalted Mary to a place equal with Jesus. The Scripture does support claims that Mary was more holy, more blessed than others, but we would do well to give her too much authority or power in the spiritual cosmos. Secondly, in reaction to what is seen as an over-blown Catholic veneration of Mary, many Protestants, and especially evangelicals, have diminished or ignored the importance of Mary. A balance is called for here on both sides of the issue.

But what of the doctrine of the Virgin Birth itself? What should we believe about the Virgin Birth?
  • Although I do not believe that a virgin birth is required to believe in the divinity of Jesus, I do believe that Mary was a virgin when Jesus was conceived. I have a very high view of Scripture and that means that I choose to believe what the Bible says about this issue.
  • I do not believe that Mary was born of a virgin. This common dogma is essentially unnecessary. If Mary were born of a virgin it does exalt her, but it does nothing to bring glory to Jesus. There is nothing in the Bible to support this view.
  • I believe that Mary was not always a virgin. After the birth of Jesus I believe that she married Joseph and that there were several children born in that family. There is no reason to believe that the other children were either miraculously conceived or born of another mother.
  • I do not believe that the virgin birth implies that there is anything inherently sinful about sexual relationships. There are rules and guidelines that God gives for sex, but we should not infer that Mary’s virginity is what made Jesus sinless.
  • I believe that Jesus’ miraculous birth sets the stage for his life and ministry. He was- and is- the Son of God. The events of the first Christmas echo through the ages so that we can know and experience “peace on earth.”

Weekly Prayer Thought

The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much. James 5.16

An observation: Although marathon runners would love to win their races, they are more interested in the competition with themselves. They want to accomplish the marathon, not necessarily win it. The challenge is to train and prepare to compete and to complete the marathon.

Often we tend to focus on the outcomes of prayer. We want to learn how to pray so that things will happen. We pay such attention to the end result that we miss the joy of praying. By doing so we lose out on the deeper things that come with a relationship with Christ.

Our prayer lives should be more like training for a marathon. We need to pay more attention to the first part of this passage than the second part. We ought to be more interested in being effective and fervent, than the availing much. To that end, let us focus on:
  • Consistency in time, place and commitment of our prayers.
  • Focusing on needs and persevering in our prayers.
  • Planning to pray. Think in advance about what you are going to pray.
  • Not giving up or being discouraged when nothing (or very little) seems to be happening.
  • Encouraging others in their prayers and seeking the encouragement of others.
  • Listening to God's voice as he speaks to us.

PRAYER: We want results, Lord. We have been trained to produce, and in our prayer lives we are no different. We want things to happen. Help us to realize that sometimes we should focus on our relationship with you. Make us effective and fervent in our prayers. Amen.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Redemptive Movies

I have written before about what I call "adult movies," those films with themes that are not necessarily scandalous, but deal with themes beyond having sex, using drugs or super heroes. When I talk about adult films, I am referring to movies that children and teens (and unfortunately, many adults) are not interested in. For more on adult films go here: .

Within in the large category of adult films, there as a sub-category that I would call "redemptive movies." Redemptive movies, to me anyway, are films that make you a better person. Sometimes you grow and improve just by having watched the film. Other times the movie will cause you to make decisions or take actions that will change your life or future. There is one footnote: redemptive movies change you for the better. Change in itself does not make a movie redemptive. For example, a film that is excessively violent may create change in you. It might make you angry, or cause you to accept or tolerate violent actions. This is not redemption, however.

I understand that my definition of redemptive is very subjective. What is positive change to me, will not be positive to someone else. I know this is the case. So with that understanding, let us move forward to recognize that movies- and all art for that matter- can be powerful tools for changing people, our culture and the world.

Many of the movies that I have reviewed on this blog are 'redemptive movies.' They are films that make you think. They cause you to evaluate life, the world and especially the status quo. Redemptive films are tools for education. I learn new things and different perspectives when I watch a movie with a message.

I don't always agree with 'redemptive movies.' Sometimes they cause me to change in a way that is completely different than what the film-maker intended. Once in a while I watch a movie just because it is controversial. 'Redemptive movies' often fall into the controversial category, but they do not need to.

Be on the look out for movies that do not only entertain, but also educate. Our time is wasted if we sit down for two hours, turn off our brains and let someone else think for us. Film should make you think, learn, change and feel.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Who Cares??

Recently several things have happened in my immediate and extended family that have caused some embarrassment. Because of the nature of these events I will not go into detail, but suffice it to say that things were said, feelings were hurt and tempers flared in a couple of different situations. That is not so unusual.

The response of those involved was to clam up. They all stopped talking. They were concerned with the difficulty of the situations, yes. But more so, they were worried about what other people would think. How often that is the case in life. We become so worried about the opinions of others that we do not do what is right. We obsess about our own reputations at the expense of truth, justice and the American way.

Often this "secrecy" leads to more trouble. Other people think that we have it all together and sometimes make embarrassing assumptions about us and our mental state. By hiding things we can also foster a spirit of dishonesty. Remember that lying is a violation of most ethical codes, and certainly the Ten Commandments.

This is why I have started to think in terms of how I relate to people. I still believe that it is important to have a good reputation. I want to avoid evil and sin at all costs. I especially want to know that others know I am living a good life. But there comes a time and place that we must all decide what is important. In addition, we need to consider whose opinion about us is important.

I am trying to group people (and their opinions) into three categories. I look at these as concentric circles of people (much like a bull's eye target). I am the center of the target and these groups of people are those around me. From closest to farthest they are...
  • Family. These are the people that are closest to me. They are the ones that I respect and love. These are the people that I want to respect and love me. I am not necessarily related to everyone in my family-category, but I want to be sure that I never disappoint any of these people.
  • Friends. Friends are people who are important in my life. They are not quite in the "family circle," but they are in the next level out. I am concerned about these folks and what they think of me, but if God (or family) calls friends are left out.
  • Fans. I want everyone to like me. My preference is that I will never upset, anger or disappoint anyone. But, things happen. Fans are the people that I want to please, but are of the least importance to me. If I have to upset anyone, it will be the fans.

Discretion is always a good thing. Secrecy generally is not. I will do my best to be discreet, but I am going to TRY being through with hiding things just because of what you might think.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Weekly Prayer Thought

Then they brought little children to Him, that He might touch them. "Let the little children come to Me, and do not forbid them; for of such is the kingdom of God. Assuredly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will by no means enter it." And He took them up in His arms, laid His hands on them, and blessed them.
Mark 10.13-16

Sometimes we forget that we should be blessing other people. Maybe we think that we are somehow not qualified to bless others. Although in this passage it is Jesus who is doing the blessing, it does not mean that you and I cannot bless other people. There are blessings throughout the Bible, and in the history of the Christian church. By blessing others we are participating in an ancient tradition.

A blessing, or a benediction, is simply a prayer that asks God to confer on another a measure of his love and grace. When we say a blessing, we are claiming, through faith, that God's will is for the object of the prayer to be blessed. We may think that it is audacious to pronounce blessings, but it is actually claiming what God has already promised. As we bless others we should follow the example of Jesus in this passage.

We should:
  • Speak encouraging words to those whom we desire to bless. For many, receiving a blessing will be a new experience. It can be a little awkward at first. Begin by sharing assuring words of comfort and explanation.
  • Touch the people you seek to bless. A hand on the forehead is often a good way to pronounce a blessing. Other options include holding hands or touching a shoulder. Always be sure that you do not make anyone uncomfortable. Notice that Jesus' purpose was to put others at ease.
  • Say the blessing.

This may be difficult at first, but you will soon become comfortable with blessing others. This has the potential to change your life, and the lives of all those that you might bless along the way.

PRAYER: May the Lord bless you with good health, grace, peace and love. May the Creator of all keep and sustain you in all you do. And may the Holy Spirit dwell in your heart now and always. Amen.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Creative vs. Prophetic

I have always thought of myself as a creative person. I am always trying to innovate. My philosophy is "Why wait until it's broken? Let's fix it now!" New ideas, new programs, new ministries are what make me tick. I want to hear new music and watch new and different movies.

So you don't get the wrong idea, let me assure you that 'new' to me is not the same as 'new' to everyone else. When I see a movie for the first time, it is new. It doesn't matter when it was made. New is the same as unique or original in my mind. My definition is not exactly the same as everyone else's.

Creativity, therefore, is a highly prized commodity in Rev Dewey's World. Doing old things new ways, trying something new, or adapting something to my situation are all things that I prize. Creativity is a gift from God, and it reminds people (me, anyway) of the Creator of all, God himself. Creativity is from God. Creativity is good.

Recently I was invited to attend a seminar on "Moving and Growing in the Prophetic." You can tell from the title of the class where the theological sympathies of the leaders and hosts lie. We learned a lot about listening to God's voice, prayer and sharing a 'word' with someone and the dangers that the word could create. There was a lot of practice. We prayed for a moment and then wrote down what God was saying. We tried to get our own ideas and opinions out of the way as we focused on the Lord himself. The seminar was frustrating to me in that many of the exercises seemed superfluous and the simplicity of hearing from God was made overly complicated.

It was at the seminar, as I was considering these thoughts that it occurred to me that creativity is related to prophecy and the world of the prophetic. In fact, I believe that in many cases we can equate creativity with prophetic words and utterances.

Many people never allow their creativity to flow because they are intimidated by others. They feel inferior to the creative output of someone else, or that others will belittle their creative efforts. This should never be the case. But the same is true in the world of the prophetic as well. There are many people who never share what God is saying. They are afraid that someone else will think that they are "weird," a "religious fanatic" or "holier than thou." Isn't it time that we all took a step back and allowed God to speak to all of us? Isn't it time that we allowed God to fan the flames creativity in every life? For the good of everyone?

What is God saying to you? What is he doing in your life? Do you want to know what he is doing in mine?

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Surrounded by Art

There are several problems in our world. You know that. There are too many big problems for anyone to deal with, all at once anyway. There is hunger, war, poverty, abortion, HIV-AIDS and way more than that. All of these issues can be overwhelming if we let them overwhelm us. There are a few things that we can do something about, however. There are some issues that we can make a stand on and make a difference.

One such issue has to do with the arts. Our world, our culture, is seriously in trouble. The arts, particularly in schools, have been relegated to an under-funded, under-appreciated ghetto. As a society we have decided that we do not care about great music, great dance, great literature or great painting. Great theatre has been replaced with reality television.

The front line in this battle has been in our public schools. Arts funding in education has been cut over and over again. Local communities are opting to support the football team financially, but not the band. This is a very bad sign. (This is not limited to local schools, however. Cities all across America are 'investing' millions of dollars in stadiums hoping that will mean more money for their baseball teams and their communities. Meanwhile, the arts community struggles.)

People all across our nation need to begin to speak out, not against sports-related investment, but in favor of arts investment, beginning in our local schools.
  • We need to protect our music, drama and fine arts programs.
  • Every student should be taking an arts appreciation course at every level of school.
  • Every person, adult and child, should be surrounding themselves with great art.
  • We need to be advocating for the arts in a public setting as patrons, participants and artists.
  • We should all be practicing art at every opportunity.
  • We should be producing art whenever we can.
  • We should be enjoying art in all its forms and settings.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Weekly Prayer Thought

You do not have because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask amiss, that you may spend it on your pleasures.
James 4.2-3

There are three things that in this passage that make it good for us to focus on. And although these verses are specifically about prayer, these thoughts can be applied to all areas of life and all relationships. Call them "prayer pointers" or "life principles," but be sure to use these as a focal point for your life.
  1. You do not get answers to your prayer because you ask with the wrong motives. You may be asking for good things, but God knows your heart. Make sure that what is in your heart is pleasing to God.
  2. You do not get answers to your prayers because you ask for the wrong things. Listen for God's voice to make sure that your requests are within his will for your life.
  3. You do not get answers to your prayers because... you do not pray. How foolish you feel when you realize that you have forgotten to pray.

Prayer is a relationship with God. It goes both ways. you have to be in tune with his plan and will for your life before you can expect him to give you what you want.

PRAYER: I do not want to neglect my relationship with you, Lord. Help me to hold up my end. Fill me with your Spirit and inspire me to serve you more. In the name of Jesus the Christ, I pray. Amen.


Sometimes I get discouraged, wondering why it seems that God never speaks to me. I am here. I haven't gone anywhere. Where is God? This is even more troubling as I see God working in the lives of people all around me. Why should I not get to hear his voice? Why is it that I am not seeing miracles?

Some would say that the difference is a lack of faith. I think that this may be part of it, but I am not ready to concede that it is all. I know that there are times when God does something we do not pray for or desire. He is God. He is sovereign. He is not bound by our wishes regardless of our level of faith. God is God and will be God no matter what.

I believe, rather, that the single greatest factor in hearing God's voice, or seeing God's hand, is in anticipating it.
  • We should expect God to speak and work in our lives. I believe that miracles will not happen unless we are expecting them to. God will not burst in on us and do things that we do not expect. If he did, God would be a bully, pushing in where he is not wanted or welcomed.
  • We should anticipate God speaking and working in our lives. When we anticipate, or look forward to God doing something it is more likely that he will, and more likely that we will be prepared for it.
  • We should pray and ask God to speak and work in our lives. If we do not ask for the presence of God, we can be pretty sure that we will not have the presence of God.

The people who are always hearing God are the ones who are listening for him and believing that he will speak. I do not believe that they are more faithful, or that God speaks to them more than to the rest of us. I do believe, however, that they are more prepared to hear.

It is time for you and I to anticipate, expect and pray for the miraculous, the work of God. Now and always.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Gay Marriage??

Although the issue of same sex marriage has not been very prominent in the current campaign season, there is still an undercurrent of discontent among those- usually evangelical Christians- who are opposed to it. There are movements for constitutional amendments, judicial prohibitions and legislative action to end this "abomination" that is certain to "destroy the fabric of the American family."

However, there are a lot of things that are already in place in our culture that really do threaten our families. There are practices that we tolerate and embrace that erode the foundation of 'traditional' families all around us. And yet, as a general rule, we do not perform the same kind of protest against any of these.
  • Divorce
  • Adultery
  • Drinking
  • Gambling
  • Fornication
  • Lying
  • Driving over the speed limit
  • Cheating on your income tax
  • Looking the other way
  • Pirating music
  • Pirating movies
  • Sharing copyrighted computer files
  • Buying term papers
  • Gossiping
  • Slandering
  • Being hateful
Every one of these- and many more- are clearly sin when viewed in light of the Bible. Everyone of these is against the will of God. Some of these are even illegal. Every one will lead to other sins and/ or be injurious to your own virtue. Consequently, every one of these sins will unravel the fabric of your family.

So the question is this: Why is gay marriage so much more important than any other? 

If you are going to be serious about standing up for God's will and word, then you must begin by having a consistent life that seeks to obey at every point.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

The Most Important Issues

I am almost finished with my political entries for this blog, at least for now. But I do want to address a significant issue: The Misappropriation of Concern. Many Christians have made the decision that some political topics and stands are more important, Christian, moral or spiritual than others. I agree. Not every policy has the same theological or spiritual significance. For example, distinctions in tax policy (who deserves a tax cut) are less morally important than how we address the needs of Americans without health care coverage.

The most profound effect of this problem is in the number of people who have decided that abortion will be the litmus test for all candidates and all policies. Again, let me assure you that I am completely pro-life. If there is any question about that, please read my earlier posts on this issue. However, I cannot support a candidate who is "pro-life," but is opposed to my beliefs on every other issue.

Can I support a candidate who favors abortion, but opposes war, for example? Is there a way that I can take a position of concern on several issues and yet violate those principles based only on one problem?

There are many Christians who have decided that there are two issues that are the most important in this election. They are opposed to abortion and to same sex marriage. These well-meaning and faithful Christians have now decided that the most important issues are the only important issues. They are willing to support unfair tax policy, oppression of the poor, unilateral imperialistic military policy, disregard for the oppressed peoples of the world and a lack of health care for all people- all things that Jesus would speak out against- in order to maintain faithfulness to those two issues.

I have a friend who is a Mennonite. The Mennonites are close theological relatives to the Amish. They are a "peace" people. As such they oppose all acts of war, aggression, violence or oppression. This, among other things, is what makes them distinctive. I asked my friend about this coming election. He shook his head and was a little embarrassed to say that he was supporting the candidate that favors the war. He said the other issues were just too important. Did you read that? 

There are many Christians, not just Mennonites, who have traded their beliefs (and their souls) for a promised political end. Be careful when you vote. Be cautious when you make decisions.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Justifying Our Sin?

I've been thinking a lot about being pro-life. If you read this blog regularly you know where I stand on the issue of abortion. (I am against it.) In fact, I try to be completely and consistently pro-life. This has implications for several areas of life and the political world. Pro-life views relate to guns, war, health care, capital punishment. All of these are significant issues that, taken together, can provide a "pro-life worldview."

But this week I have been think especially about abortion. We are less than one week from a presidential election in the USA. There are many people- mostly evangelical Christians and Catholics- who are voting primarily on the issue of abortion. This seems to be a wasted vote, as far as I am concerned. For six of the last eight years there has been a "pro-life" majority in both houses of Congress and the White House, and no substantial movement in this area has been made. Now the biggest concession that I have seen is a movement to allow exceptions to anti-abortion laws.

As outrageous and evil as abortion is, the current mood of the anti-abortion movement is to allow for exceptions. There should be certain cases, the argument goes, when abortions would be allowed. The most common reasons for allowing an abortion include the health and safety of the mother and the instances of rape and incest. That is, that women whose health may be threatened by carrying and delivering a full-term child would be allowed to terminate their pregnancy. Other women, who have conceived through the violent actions of others, would likewise be allowed to abort.

My first problem with these exceptions is that I believe that all humans have sacred value. No matter how small, or how old, every human being is given worth by God. What makes a mother more important than an unborn child? Why is her health more important than the health of a child? Why do we consider her security and mental state more important than that of her child?

But more importantly, and this is where I had a 'eureka' moment this week, if abortion is a sin, it is a sin. There should be no cases where it is not a sin to have an abortion. Is it less sinful if a gossip about a person who hurt my feelings than one who did not? We may justify one as an understandable payback, but both cases are gossip nonetheless.

The fact that a mother is uncomfortable, stressed or in danger does not mean that killing a child is not a sin. The fact that a child may be born with disabilities does not justify killing the child. A sin is a sin. Abortion is a sin.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

What I Believe About the Second Coming

To begin with, I cannot believe that I am even tackling this issue. After all, I have always said- and I still believe- that if you have your life right with Christ, you do not have to be concerned about when he is coming back. But I know that there is great concern over the second coming of Christ. The “Left Behind” books sent the Christian world into a tizzy about end times events and interpretations. Whatever your theological perspective, you have heard about, or thought about the Rapture, the Parousia, the second coming, the tribulation and the millennium.

Let me share with you a couple of very basic thoughts. First of all, no one knows when Jesus will return, or when the saints will be raptured. Matthew 24.36 makes it clear that no human being can know when the return of Jesus will take place. This makes me question anyone who ‘knows’ when this is going to take place. If someone tells me that the end of the world is coming on March 17, 2009 then I am pretty sure that it will not happen on that day. The Bible says that Jesus will come as a thief (1 Thessalonians 5.2). The second coming of Jesus will be unexpected, even by those who are expecting it.

Even though there is no way that we can know when Jesus is returning, the Bible gives us several signs that we can look for. Matthew 24 reports that Jesus taught about coming persecutions (v. 9), wars (v. 6), false prophets (v. 11) and preaching the gospel to all people (v. 14) before the coming of Christ. 2 Thessalonians teaches about a ‘great apostasy’ that will come before the return of Jesus. There are signs, but there are no definite dates, times or seasons. Every generation of faithful Christians has believed that they were living in the last days.

Even though there is no way we can know the specifics, and even though many people get consumed with speculation and prediction, let me conclude with some simple rules of thumb for all those who want to meet Jesus in the air when he returns.

  • Do not take the predictions and dooms day-ers too seriously. Jesus will come again and no amount of worrying will change that, or prepare you for it.
  • Do not become consumed with studying prophecies and trying to figure out all those mysteries. Study God’s word, but do it with balance. Study the whole Bible.
  • Be prepared all the time. Remember Jesus’ parable of the ten virgins (Matthew 25.1-10). Those who were spiritually ready got to meet the bridegroom.
  • Live like the end is coming today, but do not be disappointed if you live a long life and still do not see Jesus.

I know that I have not answered the questions that are most prevalent, but I believe that I have dealt with the most important issues. Jesus is coming soon. But it may not be for a long time yet.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Weekly Prayer Thought

It is written, My house shall be called a house of prayer, but you have made it a den of thieves.Matthew 21.13  

The house of the Lord, should be a house of prayer. In fact, there are some churches that are even called 'House of Prayer.' It is a way to designate that the church is devoted to the worship of God and establishing and building relationships with Jesus. That should be the goal of every church- every 'house of prayer.'

But Jesus is concerned because in the passage here, the Temple was definitely not a house of prayer. It had become a marketplace for religious articles. It had become a banking center for the city of Jerusalem. Too often our churches have become places of social interaction. We join the church like we join the Lions Club, or the Moose Lodge. We count our participation in the church as equal to our time in 'service organizations.' This should not be.

The church, the modern equivalent of the house of prayer, needs to be a place that creates an atmosphere which welcomes and even encourages prayer. The church must be a place where we receive those who need prayer and pray for them and with them. For this season, we need to be sure that our church is a "House of Prayer." We must take care that we do not emphasize the wrong things, but focus on the Lord and his work.

PRAYER: Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner. I have neglected your word, your will and your work. And maybe worst of all, I have neglected the work of prayer. Forgive me my failings. Encourage me as I seek to reclaim the true purpose of your house. Amen.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

How to Say It??

I am tired, put off and irritated about racism and bigotry in my community, nation and world. It is exasperating to know that there are some people who are going to be opposed to moving forward because moving forward means a change in ethnic minority status. In just a few years white people will be a minority in America. In fact, for awhile at least, the predictions are that there will be no ethnic majority. The United States is finally become the 'melting pot' that we always thought it could be.

Here is where the racism comes in, however. There are many people, usually white people, who are threatened by any advance or change in the status quo. These people believe that by preserving old mores and values they are conserving American heritage for future generations. For them the ideal for America is English-speaking, white people with two children per family. They are mad that people speak Spanish (of Korean, Thai, Vietnamese, Arabic, German, etc.) in the USA. After all, they reason, this is America. We speak English here. (Never mind that America has no official language. All people and tongues are supposed to be welcomed.)

By holding on to the English language, they have convinced themselves that they are caring for American culture. However, I contend that there is no "American culture," at least in the sense that we may want to think of it. America is the place that has given us fast food and the chain department store. These economic powerhouses have learned that they need to appeal to everyone. Therefore, there is nothing unique. Wal-Mart is roughly the same in Phoenix, Arizona as it is in the Appalachian Mountains of East Kentucky. McDonald's has the same menu in Anchorage as it does in Jacksonville.

White people have become bland, lifeless and vanilla. Don't believe me? Think about these observations:
  • The top selling condiment in America is salsa. When we are snacking, we choose Mexican food.
  • Taco Bell, again with the Mexican food, is one of the top fast-food chains in America.
  • The closest town to where I live (Sturgis, Michigan, population <12,000)>
  • For at least 50 years white teens have adopted the music, language and fashion of popular African-American culture. Today Hip Hop rules.

The things that add flavor and color to your community and to our nation are not to be found at Applebee's. No matter how much we protest, we want variety.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

How to Think Like a Christian about Imperialism

We Americans come by our imperialistic, dominant-society thinking naturally. We began as colonies of an imperial power. The British Empire was renowned for have colonies in all parts of the world. And although many of those colonies are today free and independent nations, it is still very likely that the "sun never sets on the British Empire."

The United States was one of the first to rebel against the domination and imperialism of Britain. And although many followed our lead, we did not repudiate the ideology that led to the conquest of many peoples throughout the world.

As an American, and a very patriotic one at that, I will contend that to date we have not pursued world domination in the same way that England did. But we have and are pursuing world domination nonetheless.

For most of our history we have been content to live in peace and harmony with our neighbors and others, until we are provoked. Current popular opinion believes that only in the "Bush Doctrine" have we begun to justify an attitude that instigates conflicts. But this is not true. A simple recounting of history reminds us that we rebelled against the British. We began a war with ourselves (the Civil War) to preserve the country. In this century we have engaged in war in Korea, Viet Nam, Kuwait, Afghanistan and Iraq all without being attacked or threatened.

But we have been imperialistic in other ways.
  • Our goods and services have invaded the whole world. I was able to spend two weeks in a remote corner of Africa last year and have a Diet Coke every day. We believe that our stuff is best and we ought to conquer the world with it.
  • Our media- news, television, music, movies- is everywhere. Movie studios plan on overseas ticket sales to stay in the black. American stars are usually stars everywhere else.
  • Our culture has influenced people everywhere. It is hard to find spots where our styles and attitudes are not present.
  • Our religions have begun to conquer the world. Everywhere you go, USA is seen as a Christian nation and an enemy to other faiths. (This is a long way removed from the puritans initial quest and our founding fathers' dreams for our country.)

I think that there are many ways in which our ways, beliefs and practices can benefit all of mankind. Health care improvements, medical facilities, educational advancements, all of these are ways that we can help the world. But we must not let our advantages become disadvantages for others.

I long for all people to come to my faith. I think that it is my responsibility to help people to become Christians. This is what Jesus instructed, after all. But I want to celebrate the diversity of languages, foods and cultures that make up the world. We should be joining together holding hands, not pushing our ways onto others.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

What Kind of Person Are You?

It occurred to me recently that there are three types of people. I may be wrong, but I think that all people, you and I included, fit into one of these categories. There are times when you may move from one category to another on a temporary basis, but for the most part your disposition puts you into one of these permanently.
  • Hypocritical. Hypocritical people are those who are always trying to put on airs. They want others to believe that they are something that they are not. This happens all the time in religious circles. Someone wants everyone else to believe that they do not sin and so they pretend to be holier than they are. Non-religious people do this as well, however. Everyone wants to make a good impression. They may want you to think that they make more money than they really do; that they have a better house; that they have a better job; that they are more educated; that they use better language; that they have a great home life. You get the picture. Everyone knows some hypocrites.
  • Hyper-critical. These are the people that are never happy. They could find fault with a sunny day. Everyone is out to get them and the world is in big trouble. You can hear a lot of this sort of thing especially in election years. These are the people who never have lunch dates and others try to avoid. Although I am not sure that they notice their loneliness- or even care about it- they are definitely alone in the world.
  • Happy. Happy people make up most of the population. We know that life is not perfect, but its pretty good. We have learned to be satisfied, content, with the way things are. We choose to believe that the glass is half full and even in the worst times things will get better.

Most people are pre-disposed to one of these attitudes. However, I believe that you can go a long way toward fixing your situation. Make some decisions that will allow you to change. Realize that happiness is often a choice. Even in the worst circumstances you can be happy with who you are and your situation.

I am trying really hard to be a happy boy.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Weekly Prayer Thought

But you, when you pray, go into your room, and when you have shut your door, pray to your Father whois in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly. Matthew 6.6 

One of the greatest problems that Christians have when it comes to pray is completely practical in nature. We all know that we should pray. We long to pray. We feel guilty for not praying. We know that we should make time for prayer and devote energy to it. However, for most of our lives we have been encouraged to pray, but given very little instruction on how to pray. 

Jesus words in Matthew 6 are intended to be instructive for followers of Christ. This is a simple 'how-to-pray' seminar for the disciples. Today, I want to offer a similar Introductory prayer survey for everyone who is interested.

  • The most important thing is to pray. Too often we study about prayer. We read books on prayer and we listen to teachings on prayer. Sometime you must stop all of those things and pray.
  • Write your prayers. This will give you some structure and limits. You will be able to focus better and get to the point. Also, writing forces you to slow down. This will allow you to hear what God is saying.
  • Make a conscious decision (commitment) to pray. Forget that deception from the enemy that convinces you that you will "get around to it." Pick a time and place to pray.
  • Read a passage of Scripture and pray about what you have read. Use Matthew 6 and ask God to reveal his word to you in a personal way.
  • Find a prayer partner. There is someone who would love to work with you on prayer. You do not have to pray together, but you can check with one another on your progress and make sure that you are doing what you need to.   
  • Pray before every meal. This will help you get into the habit. Find other times to get into the habit of praying. Pray before bed time, before getting out of bed, before driving, before a meeting, before a test, after work...
There is no magic formula for prayer. What works for me may not work for anyone else, but I guarantee that something will work for you. Pray about it. God does want you to pray and he will actually make it somewhat easy for you.