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.    

Friday, October 17, 2008

Let Us Sing

I was at a high school football game a couple of weeks ago when I noticed that a lot of people do not sing along with the National Anthem. I am sure that there are many people who have some very good reasons for not singing. Unfortunately, for many there is an assumption that if you do not sing the National Anthem you are not a patriot. I believe this is wrong (and wrong-minded) but it is beyond the intent and scope of this article.

I think that people do not sing because...
  • They do not know the words. Although this is a sad commentary in a nation where the song is sung at every professional and amateur sporting event.
  • They think that they cannot sing. Again, this is a real possibility, but in a stadium of hundreds (thousands) of people one person's voice is virtually unnoticeable.
  • The tune is hard to sing. There is no argument here. There are very few tunes more difficult to sing in the popular culture.
  • Some people have an emotional response to the song and the words. Singing may be too difficult for them to manage.
Any of these are possibilities, but I think the truth of the situation is more simple. People do not like to sing the National Anthem, or any song for that matter, because they are not used to singing in public- maybe they never sing at all. In fact, I think that there are only two places where most people are given the opportunity to sing in public: sporting events, and church.

Since most people do not attend church, even at Christmas and Easter, the football game is the only time they are expected to sing. When the time comes, they freeze. They may sing in the shower or on their morning commute, but unless they spend time at Gustav's Club on karaoke night, they do not sing where others can hear them.

So, I say that we should all sing, all the time. Sing wherever you are. Do not be afraid or embarrassed. The people around you cannot sing any better than you anyway. Sing aloud! Sing now! Sing!

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Out of Focus

There is a very interesting movement in the church world. It began percolating about 20-25 years ago. In summary, it goes like this. People who are not Christians will likely be turned off, or at the least, put off by traditional church trappings. Rituals, paraments, crosses, pews and altars were all deemed to be out of line when trying to reach "unchurched" people.

Following the purging of church buildings, worship services quickly followed. No longer would there be hymns, hymn books, clerical collars and robes or choirs. Anything that looked traditional (read, old-fashioned) was cast aside so that a church could be seeker-focused.

Before I go any further, let me assure you that I am all about reaching new people. I feel like I am personally seeker-focused. I am always looking to build relationships with people who do not yet know Jesus. However, often what happens in the seeker-focused world is that we dilute the Christian content to an extent that what is left looks like a motivational seminar in a shopping center.

Here are some philosophies of ministry that are attracting a lot of attention, and a lot of people, these days.
  • Seeker Focused. The seeker-focused model directs all its attentions and efforts to reaching those who do not know Christ. Contemporary forms and methods are used to speak to the unchurched in a relevant, non-threatening way. My main criticism is that this system forgets the importance of worship, nurture, spiritual growth, tradition and the historical reality of Christianity in the USA and around the world.
  • Believer Focused. This model is either a precursor to the seeker-focused church, or a reaction to it. Believer-focused churches are not opposed to evangelism, but they are supremely interested in building up the "body of Christ." The belief is that all Christians should be spiritually "fed" and so the comfort of non-believers is diminished in importance and consideration.
  • Jesus Focused. A Jesus focused approach to ministry is not necessarily opposed to either of the other models. However, the emphasis is always on finding and following the will and the way of Jesus. The comfort of seekers is less important than exaltation of Jesus. The acceptance and support of believers is submitted to the work of Jesus. Jesus first. Jesus last. Jesus all.
Ministry is an amazing and difficult attempt to spin several plates at once. We try to keep the old-timers happy. We try to encourage the young people. All the while we are hoping to attract newcomers. But while keeping all those going, we must never let the plate of focusing on Jesus fall.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Two Nights- Two Movies- One Message

I had a couple of free nights recently and so I watched a couple of movies. They were films that no one else in family was interested in seeing, so I took advantage of the opportunity to watch in relative peace and quiet.

The first movie was a rather violent and profane film called In Bruges. It is the story of two hitmen who are hiding out in Bruges, Belgium because of a botched hit. The right person was killed, but an innocent bystander was killed as well. There are great moments when the two killers, played by Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson, argue with one another. Gleeson loves the churches and the quaint atmosphere of Bruges. Farrell's character was born in and for the big city. Bruges is to slow, quiet and dull for him. Events in the movie seem to crawl by until the hit men receive their instructions from their boss, played by an evil Ralph Fiennes.

We learn, through a turn of events that I will not describe, that the two hit men, as much as they seem to dislike one another, are actually great friends. Each of them is called upon to risk his own life for the other, and each answers the call without hesitation. There is a strong undercurrent of faithfulness and loyalty between the two. It is possible to miss this lesson, but we should not.

The second film, The Darjeeling Limited, is the latest movie from Wes Anderson. As a general rule, I love Anderson's movies. They are just weird enough to be very interesting, yet normal enough that I do not have to assume an alternate identity to "get" them. This one stars Owen Wilson, Adrien Brody and Jason Schartzman as three estranged brothers trying to re-connect on a train trip/ pilgrimage across India. The colors and situations are vibrant, expressive and explosive. The three brothers share a serious love-hate relationship. All of this seems to come from their unresolved conflicts with their mother, who, it turns out, is the object of their pilgrimage.

Again, I will not spoil the story because you should see this film. You should see it because it is obscure. You should see it because it is absurd. You should see it because it is funny. You should see it because if you pay attention you will learn a lot. The brothers on the trip were able to reclaim their relationship. Through a series of unexpected and unlikely adventures they remembered that they love each other. They are reminded of the importance of family, even if their mother does not get it.

Both of these movies could be classified as redemptive. There are values that are brought into focus that may be unnoticed without the movies. Watch. Enjoy. Learn. Grow.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Weekly Prayer Thought

Pray for the peace of Jerusalem:
"May they prosper who love you.
Peace be within your walls,
Prosperity within your palaces.
"For the sake of my brethren and companions,
I will now say, "Peace be within you."
Because of the house of the LORD our God
I will seek your good.
Psalm 122.6-9

Before you get the wrong idea, let me assure you that this is not a political message. I do not want to diminish the difficulty of Israeli-Palestinian relations by pretending to know something about it in three short paragraphs. I know very little about that conflict, or the underlying causes. However, I do know something about God's will as it is expressed in the Bible.

First of all, we are to pray for peace. And although this passage speaks specifically to peace in Jerusalem, I think that it would not be wrong to apply this admonition to all times, situations and places. We should pray for peace. Peace should be on our pray list for the nations and conflicts of the world. You and I should pray for Iraq, Iran, Darfur, North Korea, Georgia, Columbia and more.

And not only should we be praying for peace around the world, we should be praying for peace in our homes, families and communities as well. I believe that it is completely within the will of God to encourage peace in all situations.

Finally, we see that there is a prayer for prosperity. Do not confuse this with some 'get-rich quick' scheme, or a 'name it and claim it' prosperity gospel. This has to do with contentment, with satisfaction and abundant life. Pray that God will meet your needs, and that he will allow you to be grateful for his will.

PRAYER: Good and great God, give us peace. Allow us to be loving and gracious to those around us and surround us with your love. Make us peace makers. Use us to plant seeds of understanding and contentment in our world. Amen.

Friday, October 10, 2008

How We Got in the Mess We're In

If you have read much of this blog you know about my spiritual, religious and theological convictions. Although I try very hard to be culturally relevant and current in political and world affairs, I am primarily a Christian Man. My main focus in life is to follow Jesus and to do his work. This is a problem because the work of Jesus typically is done in the framework and context of the Christian church.

The Bible gives a very clear perspective of what the church should be. In the New Testament book of Acts, the church is pictured as being concerned with the complete (holistic) state of humanity. There is a definite emphasis on spiritual issues, but the physical, emotional and relationship concerns of individuals are not concerned.

Jesus, and his first followers were very interested in the needs and concerns of the whole person. So we see Jesus feeding hungry people. The earliest church shared their resources so that all could be taken care of. No one was without because everyone voluntarily pitched in. The church has been, and still should be, concerned with the physical needs of all people, whether they claim to be followers of God or not.

The church has failed, however.

Sometime along the line, I am not sure when this happened, the church quit fulfilling its obligation to the whole person. In fact, many within the church now neglect- and even reject- any responsibility for caring for anything more than the basic spiritual needs of the community. We do not want to be bothered with the sick, poor, imprisoned, homeless... (well, you get the picture).

There have been periods in our history, and now may be one of them, when there were serious social, economic and emotional needs in communities. When there are needs to be met, someone must meet them. Unfortunately, when the church has not stepped in to do its job, the government has been forced to do it. We have a huge government because the church has failed in caring for the needs of the community.

I do not have a solution for this situation. It would be great if the church if the church could resume its rightful place in society and care for these needs. At this point, however, I cannot see this as feasible. The church is unprepared and unable to serve at the same rate as the government is currently. But something needs to happen. If the church did what it was supposed to we would have...
  • larger churches
  • a greater percentage of people committed to Christ
  • lower taxes
  • smaller government
  • a more positive perception of the church.

Isn't it time that the church did something good, for a change?

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Music is Communal

Music is a community event. It is hard, historically, to keep music to yourself. Until recently- about the last 100 years- to hear music you had to go to a public place, like a concert hall, a school or a church, to hear music. If you were fortunate you might be able to play an instrument and provide music in your home. Friends, neighbors and family members would gather round a piano or other instrument and sing, or at least listen to music.

Thomas Edison changed all of that. The invention of the phonograph meant that music was no longer participatory. When music is recorded it can become a spectator event, and much more private in nature. I can play music of any kind in my own home. No one else even has to know that I am listening. In many ways this was not a good innovation.

Eventually recorded music formats changed. We went from wax cylinders to plastic discs. From records we moved to a variety of tapes- reel to reel, 8-track, cassette- to the compact disc. These changes encouraged portable music devices. "Boom boxes," small battery-powered music players with handles, allowed music to be taken anywhere. Although the music was still communal in nature, it was becoming more and more private.

During the 1970's SONY introduced the world to the Walkman. The Walkman was a small cassette tape player with headphones that could be carried by an individual. This person could listen to music of his/ her own choosing without disturbing anyone else. Later developments of this technology included the Discman, which played Compact Discs in the same way. Finally, with advances in computer technology, we got the Mp3.

The Mp3, coupled with the advent of the internet, have allowed for greater access to a wider variety of music. Every conceivable genre of music is available to anyone with a computer at the click of a button. From the personal computer it is just a few connections and clicks to the personal (and tiny) Mp3 player.

Now, before I get too critical of the Mp3 player, let me say that I love creating my own play list and carrying it around in my pocket. I am a huge fan of having music with me wherever I go and whenever I want. In many ways the digital music revolution is perfect for me.

However, music has become too private. When I am in the department store and I see a person with ear buds in, I want to go listen. I want to know what they are enjoying so much. I go crazy in airports, malls and other public places. Joggers are the worst. They are working hard and getting in shape, but they are hearing music that I want to hear.

Listening to my own music does not help. I feel like I am missing something because I can hear nothing beyond my own play list. Although it is filled with my favorite songs, I am constantly wondering if there is something better out there.

Finally, and this will seem overly dramatic, Mp3 players are contributing to the breakdown of society. One of the greatest pleasures of life is discussing music with a friend. I love to argue over which singer, which songwriter, which band configuration is better. But as long as my friends and I are lost in our separate musical universes that will not happen. Here is what will happen: 
  • We will all get used to the isolation of the personal ear bud. 
  • We will forget how to interact with one another. 
  • There will be fewer and fewer meaningful conversations.
  • Music will die as markets get smaller and smaller.
  • School music programs will get smaller and smaller because there are not musical discussions taking place in society at large.
  • Music will go away.
It may take generations, but all those eventualities will come to pass if we do not return to the communal nature of music.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Consistently Pro-Life, part 2

In an earlier post I declared my commitment to the pro-life movement. I am unashamedly and unreservedly anti-abortion. I can think of no reason why abortion is ever a good idea. However, I have a lot of reservations about the so-called pro-life movement. Some of those I outlined earlier. Other reservations I will not go into except to say that too often those who are pro-life are naive and too easily manipulated by political operatives.

For now, let me raise the issue of consistency. Many individuals who consider themselves to be pro-life have not taken the time to consider all the implications of their beliefs. For if we are to be "pro-life," we must be pro-life in all aspect of life and on all political issues.
  • Gun Control. If we are going to be in favor of life, we should support measures that protect all life. Therefore, it should not be too much to ask that we regulate the ownership and use of certain guns. I can think of no reason for a private citizen to own an automatic weapon or an assault rifle. Many lives could be saved each year with careful regulation and oversight of gun ownership. It is frequently the same people who are pro-life and pro-gun. 
  • Health Care. All people should have access to the latest advancements in medical technology. Unfortunately, often those who are opposed to abortion are also opposed to greater access to health care.
  • Euthanasia. The end of life is just as valuable, and sacred, as the beginning. We cannot neglect the elderly in institutions and in private homes who are forgotten and taken for granted.
  • Capital Punishment. Here is the big one. We cannot continue to condemn people to hell by putting them to death. I choose to be pro-life by opposing abortion and the death penalty. Just because someone is a criminal it does not mean that his life is not precious to God. Again, it is the same people who favor expanding capital punishment and restricting abortion.
  • Assisted Suicide. Do not tell me that a person should be allowed to take his life. Do not talk about merciful doctors who provide drugs and counsel to end a life. Being pro-life means opposing those who practice this and holding them accountable.
  • War. I know that there is a long history of "just war" from at least the time of Augustine. I am also well aware of the Old Testament commands of God to annihilate enemies. But, I also know and love committed Christian pacifists who love and obey God. I am not ready to become a pacifist, but I am trying to struggle with how I can be pro-life and support military action.
There you have it. We pro-lifers need to get our ducks in a row. I can no longer live with these inconsistencies in my life. I challenge you to evaluate and change where you need to as well.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008


I believe that televangelists, those Christian ministers that are seen preaching on television, have a different definition of evangelism than I operate with. I believe that evangelism is sharing the truth of the story of Jesus- specifically focusing on his sinless life, vicarious death and resurrection- with the ultimate hope of recruiting new followers for Jesus. 

Often local churches get confused about evangelism. They begin to think that any time someone new comes into the building it is evangelism. This is how the evangelism committee comes to be in charge of the annual chicken noodle dinner. However, that is not evangelism. The chicken noodle dinner is a fundraiser. It does not recruit new people to the Kingdom of God.

Televangelism suffers the same sort of problems. Consider the follow items that seem to consume the large majority of time on Christian television:

  • Church services filled with people who are already Christians.
  • Sermons about how Christians can have a better life.
  • Teachings about how Christians can have more money.
  • Sermons about how Christians can be more successful.
  • Fundraising pleas (also known as “fundraising, please”).

On my satellite television system I can get about 10 “Christian” television channel/ networks (this does not include the Mormon channel or the Christian music channel). Much of the time I see the same preachers on every channel. Joyce Meyer and TD Jakes are everywhere. (Interestingly, I never see homely or obese preachers on those stations.) These networks are designed primarily for Christians, who pay the bills for them. This means that evangelism takes a back seat from the very beginning.

If a televangelist were really interested in evangelism he would…

·        Get off the Christian channel. People who do not know Jesus do not watch that station anyway.

·        He would do more than just broadcast a church service intended for the edification of those who are already convinced.

·        He would not spend most of his time raising money so that his program could stay on the air.

But that’s just what I think.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Weekly Prayer Thought

Show me Your ways, O LORD;
Teach me Your paths.
Lead me in Your truth and teach me,
For You are the God of my salvation;
On You I wait all the day.
Psalm 25.4-5

Sometimes I get the feeling that my prayers are ineffective and dull. I think that I am in a rut and praying the same things over and over again. This becomes too obvious on the occasions when I review what I have written in my Prayer Journal. I see the same petitions over and over again. I get embarrassed at the simple language that I use. I wonder if God will even take the time to listen to me.

That is when I rejoice over a passage like this one. There are not a lot flowery words or important requests. No one's life seems to be in jeopardy. This is a simple prayer. It comes from a place of humility in the heart of the one who is praying. Remember, humility is an attitude that we all need to cultivate in our prayer lives.

I am a very simple person. I do not know things unless someone tells me. I do not, cannot, will not know the ways of God unless he shows them to me. I want to know God's will. I long to do what God desires. I just need to know it. Like the Psalmist, I am willing to wait all day, but I need to hear from the Lord.

PRAYER: Show me your ways, O Lord; teach me your paths. Lead me in your truth and teach me, for you are the God of my salvation; on you I wait all the day. Amen.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Personal Ghost Town

At first I was not interested in seeing Ghost Town. The film looked too much like things I had seen before. There were dead people trying to communicate important information to the living (much like Ghost), there were living people who were able to see dead people (just like the Sixth Sense) and of course there was comedy and romance just like every other movie you have seen in recent years.

But Ghost Town surprised me. Ricky Gervais was very funny (as usual). Greg Kinnear was his usual self, giving us more a conflicted corpse than we should ever expect. And Tea Leoni turned in another fine supporting role. The story was not terribly original. Kinnear plays a husband killed too soon. He is struggling with his guilt over cheating on his wife, Leoni. He manifests his guilt by trying to protect her from a suitor who he believes to be unworthy. That is where Gervais comes in.

Dr. Bertram Pincus is a self-absorbed, difficult, insular dolt who likes no one, and consequently, no one likes him. When introduced to the beautiful widow, Bertram blossoms- and falls in love.

But here is the surprising part. Bertram changes. Or rather, Gwen changes Bertram. In the process of falling in love, Bertram learns some valuable lessons. He works to assist several ghosts on their quests to complete 'tasks' before moving to the 'other world.' Bertram learns to be selfless, and that selfishness and love cannot co-exist in the same person.

This film is not religious in any way. There is no talk of heaven, hell or judgment. God is mentioned very little, if at all. None of the characters, living or dead, display any faith. And yet, this film is one of the more spiritual that you will see. There are some new age trappings here, but do not lose sight of the fun the movie creates and the lessons on love, redemption and caring for others that you can learn.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Consistently Pro-Life

It is election season and that means that there are some people (some Christians) who are making decisions about who they will vote for based on one issue: abortion. They call themselves pro-life because it sounds a lot better than being anti-abortion.

I have nothing against being pro-life. In fact, I do not know anyone who is more "anti-abortion" than I am. I can think of no reason to ever have an abortion. If a life in the womb is sacred- and I believe it is- there are no circumstances that should prevent the birth of the child. If the mother's health is in danger I ask, "Is the mother's health more important than the child's?" If the child were conceived due to rape or incest- two of the most heinous exceptions- I ask, "What is it about that conception which makes this child less valuable?"

I am definitely pro-life and I will go toe-to-toe with anyone on that issue. However, I refuse to make abortion the only issue that decides my vote. There are several reasons for this.
  • The pro-life politicians have done nothing to change the laws in this country to eliminate or decrease the number of abortions. In the last 40 years there have been pro-life presidents for 32. In six of the last eight years we have had a pro-life congress and a pro-life president. And yet, there has been no significant (or insignificant) change in abortion law.
  • Although abortion is a terrible thing in this country, there are other issues that should be taken into account. Should we focus on abortion only when our nation is losing an unnecessary war? Should we put a priority on abortion when our economy is crumbling? Should abortion be our only issue when our poor are uneducated, untrained and uncared for?
  • Our focus on abortion distracts us from the real work of renewing the world and ushering in the Kingdom of God. If we were more effective in evangelism there would be fewer abortions.
I know that this is a difficult situation, but we need to consider all the options before we buy into a political agenda that may be only propaganda. I say that we should be pro-life. But let's begin a movement that is completely and authentically pro-life.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Jazz in Real Life

On Tuesday at lunch time I went to a very nice- pleasant, great- jazz concert while I ate a chicken sandwich. The group that was playing was a very good quartet. They featured piano, bass, drums and tenor sax, with a guest player on alto sax and clarinet. I had a great time. The sun was shining. The music was good. People kept coming and going, but they were not distracting. Everything was perfect.

It was while I was completely engrossed in the music that it occurred to me that Jazz music is like real life. Stick with me. I think you will agree.
  • Jazz music keeps going no matter what. The piano player can get a cramp in his fingers, but the music continues. The sax player may cough, but nothing stops. Life is like that too. No matter what happens things keep going. Steve Miller said that time keeps on slippin', slippin', slippin' into the future. Its true.
  • In Jazz music, anything can happen. Jazz is built on the principle of improvisation. That is, all the musicians know the framework of the number. They are aware of the tempo, the tune and the basic structure of the song, but when it is time to solo... anything goes. If that is not a reflection of real life I don't know what is. You have a general idea of what the next week, or year, will be like but then someone dies, or the stock market crashes. Anything can happen so be prepared for it.
  • Jazz is filled with emotion. When Jazz is really good you do not hear it so much as you feel it. Jazz goes beyond the senses to the heart and soul of people. Jazz, like no other music, helps you get in touch with your inner self, your emotions. And as much as we try, life is emotional. Every day is a sensory-emotional explosion waiting to happen.
Here's what you should do: Listen to jazz, at least for today. And realize that God is in control. Things will happen. Keep going.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

My Candidate

Here is something I have decided. It is still one month until the election in the US. In my town we are electing a President/Vice-President, Governor, US Representative, State Senator and State Representative. In addition there are several county posts up for grabs this year. I have been following the races pretty closely and I have come up with one thing for sure.

I have already decided who I will vote for in every race.

That is probably not that unusual. I think a lot of people have probably decided who they will be voting for. But I have noticed something peculiar about my election attitude this year.

My candidate can do no wrong. The other candidate seems like a buffoon. I am sure that this is only my perception, but it seems that every day the latest campaign news only serves to confirm my decision. When my candidate makes a statement or a policy decision it seems insightful, articulate and profound. When the opposing candidate makes a comment I tend to roll my eyes with a "that's what I thought he would do/say" attitude.

Every move by the opponent seems to be a huge mistake. Everything my guy does only serves to reinforce all the good things that I know about him.

I am sure that I am exaggerating this situation, but I am giving myself a caution. My attitude smacks of close-mindedness and intolerance. And although those are often prized as virtues in the world of politics, they are not in the real world. I must be careful to avoid judgmentalism and prejudice at every turn.