Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Ash Wednesday Again

It is a somewhat momentous day, for me anyway.
  • Today is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of the Christian season of Lent. Lent is the beginning of the time of preparation for memorializing the death, burial and resurrection of Easter. On Ash Wednesday we reflect on our lives, confess and repent of our sins and commit ourselves to live in a more holy way. We submit to the ashes as a reminder of the grief that our sins cause.
  • Two years ago, on Ash Wednesday, I began writing in this blog. It seems like a long time ago, but two years is sort of like a blink of the eye. I have been more regular and faithful than I thought I would be. I am not sure whether that is good or bad, but it is true.
  • Yesterday was my 365th entry in this blog. That means today's entry equals one leap year's worth of writing (at one entry each day). This is another significant milestone, to me anyway.

So, tomorrow marks the beginning of year three. What will that be like?

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Practices of the Christian Faith: Fasting

In the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, there are dozens of references to fasting. In the Old Testament there are calls to fast and pray for specific times and seasons. In the New Testament it seems as though fasting is a regular part of the life of the faithful. Jesus says to his disciples, “When you fast (Matthew 6.16).” There is no indication that fasting is an option. Jesus did not say “If you fast.” Fasting was a fact of life.

So why is it that people in the 21st Century do not fast? Why is it not even a consideration for our spiritual health? Our physical health?

The first answer- maybe the only one- is that we are selfish. It is easier to eat than not to eat. Eating is comfortable, fun, and even good for us. Fasting is hard work. We must overcome temptation, exercise self-discipline and focus to fast. Jesus expects it of us, but it is difficult. Our culture does not help this either. In fact, if you are involved in a fast you may be tempted to keep it quiet. We don’t want people thinking that we are weird fanatics, after all. No one else is doing, we reason, so why should I?

A spiritual fast is one where the person fasting makes a sacrifice of a particular item, usually food, for a designated period of time. There are various lengths of fast, from a meal to a total fast for several days. There are also fasts that eliminate only meat, or grease, or something else from the diet. Another variation on fasting is giving up one meal each day, or each week.

The most important part of fasting, however, is not what you stop eating, but what you do with the time and energy that you are not using to eat. If I sacrifice my lunch to God’s will, then I should spend my lunch time in prayer, in study, in meditation. As I deny my physical appetites, I should focus on filling my spiritual appetites and growing in my relationship with the Lord.

And now we are faced with the season of Lent. There are two admonitions that Christians are faced with during Lent’s forty days. We are asked to “Take Up” something from Christ. Traditionally we focus more on prayer, spiritual disciplines, study or attendance at worship. In addition, we are asked to “Give Up” something. In many circles (notably Roman Catholics) Christians give up, or fast, meat on Fridays. Others fast another food item for the entire season of Lent.

The question for all of us who follow Jesus is this: What will you take up? What will you give up?

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Meanwhile, At Oral Roberts

There are huge problems with the so-called prosperity message in the Christian church. The teaching is essentially unbalanced and can lead to a self-serving greed among those who follow its precepts. In addition, leadership within the prosperity movement are prone to financial problems themselves. The idea behind prosperity teaching is that God will bless the faithful with wealth. That means that a lack of money must mean that someone is not being faithful.

This teaching has been the undoing of many ministers (see my last entry). There is one institution, however, that seems to be making great strides toward fixing its problems.

Oral Roberts University has been through the ringer. About a year ago there were multiple accusations floating around the Tulsa, Oklahoma campus. Terminated professors accused the president, Founder Oral Roberts' son, Richard, of stealing from the school. They further claimed they were fired for making the accusations. Roberts denied any wrongdoing, but was unable to explain away many extravagant personal expenditures. He was eventually released from the school.

Mart Green has become a savior for the struggling school. Green's family owns the Mardel chain of Christian stores and Hobby Lobby stores. The family has agreed to provide funds for ORU to get out of debt and right it's ship, in exchange for control of the Board of Directors. The process came at just the right time. May Green, who will be serving as Chair of the Board of Trustees, be successful in fixing the problems in what once was, and should be again, a great institution of higher learning for Christians.

ORU has now made another excellent step toward recovery. Recently the university named Mark Rutland as its new president. He will be filling the office once held by Richard Roberts.

Rutland is a perfect candidate for this position. He began his ministry as a United Methodist pastor and evangelist. Later he served as pastor of Mount Paran Church of God in Atlanta, Georgia. He served several years as pastor of Calvary Assembly of God in Orlando, Florida. During his tenure as pastor the church's debt was reduced significantly and attendance increased dramatically. Most recently, Rutland has served as president of Southeastern University in Lakeland, Florida. Nothing but good has come about during his time there.

There is a long way to go in the healing of ORU, but Mark Rutland is a good step to take in that process. Rutland could, and should, serve as an example for other prominent religious leaders. Integrity of heart and life is what is needed.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Prosperity's Preposterous Propensity

It is happening again. Again is probably too optimistic a term. As long as people, including ministers, are prone to selfishness and sinful behavior there will be failings. However, it seems that there have been a rash of them in recent weeks (months, years).

In this entry I am not going to deal with
  • Oral Roberts or his visions
  • Jim Bakker and his crimes or moral failures
  • Jimmy Swaggart and his special friends
  • Ted Haggard and his unusual addictions
  • W.V. Grant and his healing gifts
  • Robert Tilton and his concern for supporters' prayer requests
  • Richard Roberts and his financial problems
  • Creflo Dollar and his gifts to policemen.
Those are all too easy. They can be dismissed because the issues involved lack of judgment and stupidity. But I do want to deal with three televangelists and their problems. These three are all smart people who should know better than what they have done. They are not thinking. Or maybe they think they are above and beyond scrutiny.
  • Kenneth and Gloria Copeland. It was recently disclosed that their ministry owns a $3.6 million jet, a $6 million dollar home that the Copelands live in on a 1500 acre property. This is true while the Copelands continue to stall and resist a Congressional investigation into their finances.
  • Thomas Weeks III. Reverend Weeks recently gained notoriety for his flamboyant wedding to popular preacher Juanita Bynum. There were extravagant gifts, rings and parties. Then there was an inevitable break-up including Weeks beating his wife in a parking lot. This sounds just like something you would read in your celebrity gossip magazine. Finally, Weeks was led from his church in handcuffs after falling half a million dollars behind in rent.
  • Randy and Paul White. The Whites have been mentioned in this blog before. ( Now they are in financial trouble. Their $12 million loan on their church property in Florida has been foreclosed. 
One of the saddest parts of this situation is that all of these are proponents of what I believe to be an heretical teaching. The belief is that God wants all his followers to be wealthy. Followers are taught that if they give to the ministry then they will be blessed with prosperity in return. 

I would suggest that everyone be a little more critical before giving to any ministry or church. Make sure you know where the money is going and what it will be used for. Pay close attention to those who are receiving the money. Do their lifestyles match their teachings? Do they live out the principles of Jesus in their lives?

Pay attention to what is going on and pray for those in authority.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Anything Worth Watching?

This is a very troubling question for me. I do not expect an answer. I think I already know the answer, but "Is there anything on television that is worth watching?" Answer: NO!

I had a few moments of leisure the other night so I decided to watch one of the current batch of situation comedies. I had previously tried 30 Rock and The Office and was not offended by them. In fact, I found both to be mildly amusing if innocuous. I was hoping that my new show would not sink to the level of Kath and Kim or My Name is Earl, two sitcoms that I have tried and rejected soundly as a waste of time and brain cells.

So, I picked a program at random, The Big Bang Theory. What a pile of garbage. The idea behind this gem, the situation, if you will, is that four geeky nerds share an apartment across the hall from a beautiful, young blond girl. Never mind that this sounds like a re-tread of Friends (in reality, it is), there is nothing good here.
  1. I have no idea why the sexy girl spends time with the nerds and seems to value them as people. This flies in the face of accepted sitcom wisdom. I have only watched the show once, and plan to never watch again, so I am sure that I will never figure this one out.
  2. There is nothing new or original here. The characters have all been seen before. The situation is familiar. This is old hat.
  3. The writing relies on familiar cliches and worn-out jokes.
  4. The characters are tired stereotypes with no depth. They are there, but we know nothing about what makes them tick. Where is the back story?
I cannot invest anymore time or energy in this show. It will be gone soon. It is not worth me caring about or spending time with. This is nothing more than Two and a Half Men without the charisma of Charlie Sheen.

Help! I need to find something worth watching on television. Is it out there?

Monday, February 16, 2009

Weekly Prayer Thought

Create in me a clean heart, O God,
And renew a steadfast spirit within me. Psalm 51.10

He had done nothing to offend me, I was just tired. I was grouchy. My nerves were frayed and my emotions were a little too close to the service. Those are all my excuses, but the truth is that I just blew up. He did not deserve the response he got from me. I yelled. I fumed. I fussed. And it didn't take long. I said my piece and it was all over. There was nothing more to say, so I turned and walked away. I am not sure what my friend's response was to my tirade. I did not care.

It wasn't until much later that I realized that I had blown it. I had over-reacted and missed an opportunity to find peace and reconciliation. I was a part of the problem. I had lost all sight of how to relate to people- this person, a friend, anyway.

That is why it is important that we regularly pray prayers like this one in Psalm 51. We need the renewing work of God to make us clean and pure. Every person needs a regular round of repentance. Here are some basic steps to get you on your way.
  • Examine your heart, your life, your words and your actions.
  • Identify the sins that you have committed.
  • Confess those sins to God.
  • Confess your sins to those persons you have sinned against,or offended.
  • Repent, or turn away, from your sins.
  • Promise to sin no more.
  • Commit yourself to avoiding those sins in the future.
  • Receive the grace of God.

Repentance is one of the hardest parts of the Christian life. Admitting your faults and sins is a true crisis experience. However, our prayers cannot be effective if we do not come to God in holiness and purity.

PRAYER: Forgive me, Lord, for I have sinned. I have not lived up to your expectations or my potential. Empower me. Encourage me. Make me bold so that I may live for you now and always. Amen.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Ben "Alger" Carson

Horatio Alger was a prolific author who was best known for his rags to riches stories of the American dream. Several year ago I became aware of true-life Horatio Alger story. The story of Ben Carson is not secret, but it was very exciting when I first became aware of it. Carson's autobiography, Gifted Hands, was an inspiring, life-altering book for me.

When I read the book I was impressed by Dr Carson's success. He has an impressive resume no matter where he comes from and who he is. He is a pediatric neuro-surgeon who pioneered procedures to help children suffering from seizures, the hemispherectomy that removes one half of the brain to give a child a normal life, and to separate conjoined twins who were connected at the head. Both procedures were successful and created a lot of publicity for Dr Carson.

But the truly amazing aspect of the story is the environment from which Dr Carson came. He was raised in the inner-city by a single mother. He endured racism, poverty, a bad attitude and many other forms of disadvantage. And yet he was able to overcome disadvantage, become a productive member of the medical community, attain a measure of success, attain a measure of financial security, keep his deep Christian faith and become an effective and loving father and husband.

The true story, however, is about the faith and commitment of his mother, Sonya Carson. When it was required, Ben's mother got her two sons in line. She made sacrifices, worked hard and loved her sons. She is a true example of what parents ought to be.

Recently TNT produced a broadcast a filmed production based on Carson's book. It is well worth your time. (Read about the film at (Get more information about when to watch at

So, do three things...
  1. Watch this movie.
  2. Read this book.
  3. Become the parent God intended you to be.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Truly Nothing New

I am frustrated and fed up with the current crop of films being offered to American movie-goers. There is very little that is original coming from Hollywood. Thankfully there is the independent movie scene allowing us some choices at the cinema. Hollywood is sure not giving us much variety.

It seems to me that every other movie that is released by the big movie studios is either
  • A sequel to a previously made movie. How many Friday the 13th movies do we really need?
  • A remake of a movie that we have seen before. Doesn't the Day the Earth Stood Still seem familiar?
  • A remake or adaptation from a television series. Can you say Get Smart and Land of the Lost?
  • A formula that we have seen a hundred times before. How about New in Town?
  • And the latest fad, a comic book adaptation. Are you ready for Watchmen?
I think that for the money you and I have to pay to go to the movies, we deserve a little bit more entertainment than a tired retread. Give us something new. Give us something original. No more Sex and the City. No more Batman.

In case you are out of ideas, Mr Hollywood-man, how about reading a book? There are lots of great ideas in books. What about meeting some real people? That means that you will have to get out in the real world away from the entertainment business. Hey, here's a revolutionary thought: Get some ideas from the newspaper. There are stories in there every day!

It's on you, Hollywood. Be creative. Just do it.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

My Favorite Rock Songs

"I love Rock-n-Roll. Put another dime in the jukebox, baby."

That's just the way it is for me. Sure, there are other forms of music that I enjoy. In fact, i really, really like jazz, blues, folk, alt-country, modern worship... I could go on. But my heart belongs to rock and roll. Incidentally, every song I hear is compared to rock songs in general, and my list of favorites in particular.

I know that these are technically my favorite rock songs, but to me they are the greatest rock songs. (It's all subjective anyway, so let me have my greatest songs and I'll... tell you that mine are better than your greatest songs.)

So, without further delay, the greatest rock songs of all time:
  • Lola, by the Kinks
  • (I Can't Get no) Satisfaction, by the Rolling Stones
  • Black Magic Woman, by Santana
  • Take it to the Limit, by The Eagles
  • Long Cool Woman in a Black Dress, by the Hollies
  • Respect, by Aretha Franklin
  • Me and Bobby McGee, by Janis Joplin
  • Born to Run, by Bruce Springsteen
  • Peggy Sue, by Buddy Holly
  • Like a Rolling Stone, by Bob Dylan
  • Deacon Blues, by Steely Dan

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Perfect People

I am tired of perfect people.

Watching the Grammy Awards the other night, I was struck that there are almost no "plain" or "homely" people in the music business anymore. In this age of MTV and the music video, there is no place for the less than photo- or telegenic performer. In fact, a pretty face is not even enough. A singer today needs to have a "great figure" as well. Sadly, most of my all-time favorites would never make it in today's environment. Bob Dylan, Willie Nelson, Aretha Franklin and Buddy Holly, legends all, but not beautiful or glamorous. The world would be a sadder place without Peggy Sue, Respect, Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain or Blowin' in the Wind.

Programs like American Idol only feed into this problem. Only the good looking get on the show. Only the really good looking have a shot at winning. People with facial blemishes, weight issues or- heaven forbid- bald heads should just pack it in. You are not good enough in today's world.

And those of you who want to defend Christian music as somehow superior need to get over yourselves. I challenge you to find the great artists who are not physically 'perfect.' 

I believe the best artists in all fields of music cannot be found today because of our bias toward pretty people. It is a sad state of affairs.

So I propose a change. For the next week let's support the plain people in the world. Let's watch television programs that feature the plain (there are not very many). Let's listen to music that is less concerned about how well the performer dances in the video than it is to the quality of the singer.

For one week, let's have no "perfect people" in our lives. Let us not try to look like Hollywood ideals. Let us not dress like them, or act like them, or talk like them. For this week, let's be anti-establishment. Let's be plain. Let us be normal. For one week.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Weekly Prayer Thought

Men always ought to pray and not lose heart. Luke 18.1

Sometimes prayer seems like a waste of time. I just go through the motions and no one cares or notices. In fact, there are times when I am sure that I am praying only out of obedience. It seems that there is no relationship between God and myself, and my prayers are offered only because God commanded it. This is a sad state of affairs, but it is better than not praying at all.

Jesus encourages his followers to pray all the time. They should pray and not "lose heart" or be discouraged. Even when it seems pointless, we should keep on praying.

There are enemies of prayer. There are distractions, temptations, interruptions that will keep us from experiencing the fullness of a relationship with God. However, if we are careful to always pray, and to never lose heart, we will have a full and fruitful relationship with the Lord.

Jesus says later in this passage that those who persist in their prayers, regardless of the obstacles, will receive what they pray for. That is good news, especially when you are alone, frustrated and discouraged.

So today, no matter how frustrated and discouraged you may be, pray. No matter how many things there are trying to keep you from God, pray. No matter how busy you are with your family, your work, your life, pray. Pray always and do not lose heart.

PRAYER: I am very discouraged, Lord. It seems like you are not there, like you are not listening. My prayers go unanswered and my relationship with you seems to be withering. Strengthen me and my resolve this day. Give me consistency in my prayers and an attitude of persistence. In the name of Jesus I pray that. Amen.