Tuesday, March 31, 2009

More Philosophical Music

  • "There's a thin line between love and hate." Rich and Rob Poindexter and J. Members
  • "Why can't we be friends?" War

Monday, March 30, 2009

Weekly Prayer Thought

If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 1 John 1.9

The world can be a pretty bad place. Unfortunately, I sometimes find myself contributing to the bad, the evil. I contribute to the bad when I am thoughtless, jealous or intolerant. I contribute to the bad when I am neglectful, disrespectful or hurtful. I hate to admit this, but I can find myself contributing this negativity almost every day.

You see, the Bible teaches us, and experience shows us, that every person is sinful by his/her very nature. We naturally tend to sin. It is who humans are. It is what we do. We sin in two different ways.
  • Our first kind of sin has been referred to as 'sins of commission.' These sins are ones we commit by an act of our will. We know that we are not supposed to lie, for example, and yet we do. Along with several others, this is a sin of commission.
  • There are also sins of omission. These are infractions by leaving something undone. That is, we know we are supposed to do something, and yet we do not do it. A good example of this is when we withhold our care or love from another person.

There is no escaping the fact that all people are sinners. We all struggle with both types of sin. But God has made a way out for us. In fact, the way out is once again the way of prayer. We are taught that if we are to be forgiven our sins we must pray. And when we pray, we are led to believe, we will be forgiven. God will forgive us and cleanse us. This means that not only will we have a clean slate, he will work toward taking away our tendency to sin.

That is good news for all of us, and one of the most important aspect of prayer.

PRAYER: Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner. Take away my desire to sin. Forgive those sins I have already committed. Cleanse me and make me new. I pray this in the name of the one who became, and continues to be, the sacrifice for my sins. Amen.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Flash of Insanity?

The film, Flash of Genius was missed by many last year when it made the rounds to theatres. It is not a powerful dramatic film. There are no car chases, fight scenes or action sequences. It contains very little "adult" language. There is no nudity, sex or drug use. There are no high powered Hollywood stars. It is not a romance, comedy or romantic comedy. There is little here to argue for commercial success. However, Flash of Genius is a very good film.

Greg Kinnear stars as Robert Kearns, an engineering professor who has the idea, and then develops the intermittent windshield wiper. He tries to sell it to the Ford Motor Company, but they steal it. The bulk of the film deals with everything that Kearns lost as a result of Ford's theft- dignity, marriage, family, job, career, home, sanity (the list could go on). In one sense this is a very sad movie. A good man lost everything that he had ever held dear.

In another sense, this is a great triumph.
  • Although Kearns lost the respect of children he never gave up on them, or having a relationship with them. And although he ultimately lost his marriage, he always hoped to save or rescue that relationship. He was deeply committed to his family. When he finally gets his day in court, we are glad to see that all his children have joined is ad hoc legal team. They are all in this together. When Ford sends a representative to the Kearns home on the night before the verdict and offers $30 million to settle the case, there is very little interest in anyone in the family. They stick together. The importance of family is a great lesson in Flash of Genius.
  • Another triumph of this film is the importance of personal dignity and integrity. Our culture would have us believe that anything is okay if it leads to money, or an easy life, or advancement in the world. Robert Kearns rejects that idea. He is almost as corny as a traditional American superhero. He stands for truth, justice and the American way. A large settlement is less important to Kearns than the recognition that he was the inventor and that Ford stole his idea. For a moment I wanted him to compromise his convictions and take the money, but then I realized that it is much better to be principled than to be rich.
Flash of Genius is not everyone, but it is definitely worth watching.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

No News, Good News?

I am sure that I am a geek. I know that I am a nerd. I do not get involved in role-playing games and I do not know how computers really work. But I do enjoy some pretty geeky things. One of those things is now in danger. I love reading the newspaper, and I am afraid my days indulging in that joy are numbered.

Newspapers across the country are in danger. People are turning to the internet for news more and more. Cable television news is also infringing on the territory of the traditional newspaper. Oh, there is at least one more factor, many, many people are not interested in news, papers or reading at all.

Recently my local newspaper announced that it will be transitioning from an afternoon publication to a morning paper. For me this will be an improvement, but it worries me because the motivation behind the change is economic. The paper believe that there will be more subscribers and greater circulation if the paper is out in the morning. Consequently, there will be greater advertising revenues with the greater circulation.

If this works, I am all for it. I want to keep my paper. But I am concerned that so many papers are making such changes and some are closing altogether. And although I know that there is certainly an editorial bias in the print media, it is generally more objective than cable news (consider Fox News and MSNBC), and definitely more reliable than news blogs and the like on the internet.

Buy a paper. Help preserve some jobs. Strengthen the economy. Save your country. Rescue and preserve democracy.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Why I Love Books

There is a lot of talk lately about the Kindle, an electronic reading device, and ebooks in general. The electronic reader is touted for its convenience, ease of use, large capacity and portability, among other things. I know that most of this is marketing mumbo-jumbo. The Kindle is not nearly as good as the advertisers would have us believe. But still, it is an interesting concept. The biggest flaw with it is that it completely overlooks the greatest invention ever. The Book.

I love books. To paraphrase Thomas Jefferson, "I cannot imagine a life without books." It is to horrific to contemplate. And yet, that is what the internet, the ebook, the ipod and other devices are ultimately leading us to.

However, I rejoice that I already own a lot of books. I have more books than I will ever read. If publishers quit manufacturing books today, I would have enough. But that is not the point. The point is that I want new books. I want to read pages printed with words bound in covers.

The things I love about books are simple. Maybe you share some of my passions.
  • I love watching my progress in a book as the book mark moves from front to back. I get a sense of satisfaction knowing that I am getting somewhere. That progress can be visibly measured.
  • I love the art on the cover of the book. I learned long ago the truth of the old saying- "Never judge a book by its cover." But there is great joy when a great book has a good cover. Sometimes I just look at the cover of the book and marvel.
  • The shape of books is great. They line shelves so neatly. They fit in your hand just right. And when you have an uneven table leg, a book is the perfect remedy to prop it up.
  • The size of books is perfect. Although there are some books (coffee table books, encyclopedias, etc.) that are entirely too large, holding a book is one of life's great pleasures. It is large enough to remind you of it's presence, but small enough that it does not become a burden.
  • The smell of books is awful and wonderful. There is no mistaking that odor. I cannot describe it, but if you know the aroma you can imagine it just now.
  • Books give you a sense of accomplishment. I journal all the books I read. I know how many I have read. I can tell you my favorite authors. I keep a list of books I still want to read. And when I see my shelf of recently read books, I am filled with a sense that I have done something.

The days of books may be passing by, but I hope not. I love books.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Weekly Prayer Thought

Let justice run down like water,
And righteousness like a mighty stream. Amos 5.24

It's pretty simple to read over a statement like that one and not pay any attention to it. We can be tempted to count it as an affirmation of God's power, vengeance and justice. It is all that, but it is so much more. You see, at it's heart this is a verse about prayer.

The one addressed in this passage is not the reader. You and I are incidental to this exchange between man and God. This is a prayer petitioning God for his justice. Often we are tempted to neglect praying about such matters. After all, we believe, God is omnipotent, all-powerful. He does not need our prayers to do the right thing. God's justice will be done, we assume. We must never forget that an important element in God's righteous judgment is our participation. We are called to pray for God's will.

There is one other thing to consider here. When we pray about injustice and unrighteousness, our lives, our hearts are changed. We move from being an interested bystander to being a concerned participant. You cannot seriously pray for oppressed peoples without becoming concerned about them. You cannot pray for justice without being offended by the oppressor.

It will soon become clear that you cannot pray without being changed. Your heart will not only ask for justice, your mind and body will begin to work toward it.

PRAYER: Lord God, today I pray for the oppressed people of this world. Bless, comfort and heal those who are enslaved, exploited and marginalized. Make all things new. Use me to bring justice in my home, church and community. For the sake of all your children I pray in your name. Amen.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Prayer Experiment Worksheet

The Spring Prayer Experiment

 Three people to pray for each day…

1.      Someone who needs Jesus ____________________________

2.    Someone who needs direction ____________________________

3.    Someone who needs healing ____________________________

 Ten sentence prayers each day…

Prayers at every meal…

Monday _________________________

Tuesday _________________________

Wednesday ______________________

Thursday ________________________

Friday ___________________________

Saturday ________________________

Sunday __________________________

One extended prayer time each week… 

The Spring Prayer Experiment

This week I heard from God. 

This sounds more dramatic than it actually was. I often hear from God. He answers my prayers regularly. Sometimes if very dramatic ways. Revelations pop up sometimes in unexpected places. That is the way God spoke to me this week. I was working on my sermon, the next in my series on the Sermon on the Mount, when I started thinking about prayer.

This spring I want all of us to have a new experience of God’s prayer- answering power.   I want you to join me for a Spring Prayer Experiment. From now until Memorial Day will you pray in this way?

Begin by thinking about someone who needs to know Jesus. It may be someone in your family, at work or at school. You surely know someone who does not know the Lord. Then think about someone who needs direction. There may be a big decision looming, a job situation, a family crisis, a marriage in jeopardy. Finally, think about someone who needs to be healed. It could be that a long term illness, an injury or an impending surgery is the cause for this need. Now that you have these three people in mind, commit yourself to pray for them each day until Memorial Day.

The second part of this experiment is completely different. Every day you encounter people with needs. Often God nudges your spirit about these individuals. You know how this goes. You notice that someone looks sad. Another person seems to not feel well. A mother speaks in anger to her children at the store. For this spring season, say a sentence prayer for 10 such people each day. These prayers need not be elaborate. You do not even need to close your eyes. Something as simple as, “Lord, calm the anger of that young woman.” “Touch that man so that he can feel better.”

Part three of the Prayer Experiment is even simpler. Pray at every meal. I know, you already do that. I know I do. At least I thought I did. When I began to pay attention I realized that I neglected blessing my food quite often.  Make it a point during this experiment to pray for every meal. Do it no matter what you are eating, where you are, or who you are with.

Finally, have one extended prayer time each week. For most people, one extended prayer time could be as short as five minutes. The length is less important than the attitude of the heart. Commit yourself to allow enough time to get to know God, and let him get to know you.


Monday, March 16, 2009

Weekly Prayer Thought

Teach me Your way, O LORD;
I will walk in Your truth;
Unite my heart to fear Your name. Psalm 86.11

How easy it is to convince myself that I can solve all my own problems. After all, I've made it this far. I have done alright learning to provide for my family, hold a job and pay my bills. When situations come up, I do pretty well at taking care of it. I can resolve disputes and figure things out. I am no MacGyver, but I do okay.

And that's the American way, isn't it? We do not want to take charity. We want to fend for ourselves. We look out for number 1. We are self-reliant and independent. What a great life! I can take care of myself and be my own boss. I know all the answers.

But that doesn't quite ring true in light of the Psalm, does it? After all, the prayer in this Psalm is not to be independent, but to be dependent. We are to recognize our need for God. We should be praying to learn his truth, to walk in his ways and to have his values.

I am as selfish as the next guy- maybe more so. I need to hear this admonition to rely on Jesus. I can be independent, but I must always be in submission to the work of God in my life.

PRAYER: I think too much of myself, Lord. I think that I am great. I believe that I don't need anyone else. Sometimes I even think I don't need you. Forgive me my selfish attitude and teach me how to live for you. Amen.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Selective Service

A group of semi- related musical observations...
  • While watching American Idol last night I was shocked (that would be sarcasm) to discover that originality is frowned upon. What is necessary to win is for a contestant to be just like everyone else. Model yourself after whoever is popular right now.
  • Johnny Cash, Aretha Franklin and Bob Dylan could never have the impact on music and the world today that they had when they first burst onto the scene. They are just not pretty or sexy enough. If you can't dance, look good in a swimsuit or have a popular video, your music will never be heard by the masses.
  • When trying to find new music, you have to wade through a lot of crap to get to something good. This is a life truth. It works in nearly every area of music. You have to hear a lot of Yanni or Kenny G before you get to one Miles Davis. Although this can be a tiresome and tiring process, it usually proves to be worth the effort.
  • In the world of popular music the most prized attributes are mediocrity, imitation and commercial appeal. Originality is looked down upon and discouraged.
  • The appeal of popular music is its 'rebel' status. We love rock and roll because our parents were against it. As long as the recording industry opposes music downloading and file sharing, it will continue.

More Philosophy

  • "You can spend all your time making money. You can spend all your love making time." Randy Meisner, Don Henley, Glenn Frey
  • "Everybody wants to go to heaven. Nobody wants to die." Loretta Lynn
  • "The times, they are a-changin.'" Bob Dylan

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Great Philosophers of Our Time

Some of the best pop-philosophy of our time comes from popular music. Well, maybe best is too broad an idea. In fact, it might be the better part of wisdom to simply acknowledge that there are songwriters who do dabble in philosophy. Music speaks to the soul and lyrics speak to the mind. The combination marries music to thought which is a very powerful thing.

I know that there is no end to philosophy. Likewise, there are innumerable songs that seek to make comment on the human experience. And although I am often critical of Christian music, I do find depth of meaning and purpose in much of it. 

Good music makes you feel. Great music makes you think about how and why you feel.

There is no way that I can do this topic justice. In fact, I am going to plan on making this an open-ended entry. I will periodically update or add to this entry as I discover new music, new philosophy, new ideas... you get the idea.

Here are my nominees for outstanding musical philosophy.
  • "I don't want to die in the hospital. Get me back outside." Conor Oberst
  • "Life goes on long after the thrill of livin' is gone." John Mellencamp
  • "You're so vain you probably think this song is about you." Carly Simon
  • "Freedom's just another word for nothing left to lose." Kris Kristofferson

Monday, March 9, 2009

Weekly Prayer Thought

I recently came across some prayer pointers that I think are excellent. I would like to share them with you. I will keep my comments on each of these steps brief, but please be sure to study the Scripture references that are included.
  • Worship. Psalm 100.4. A life devoted to powerful worship will be a life of powerful prayer.
  • Be still. Psalm 46.10. Be quiet and focus on God.
  • Confess. 1 John 1.9. Without confessing our sins we can never know God's grace.
  • Submit to God. 1 Peter 5.6. Allow God to be in charge of every aspect of your life.
  • Be filled with faith. Hebrews 11.6. Start by believing and work toward knowing that God will work.
  • Do spiritual warfare. Ephesian 6.12. Know that there are forces that want to keep you from God.
  • Listen to the Holy Spirit. 1 Corinthians 2.9-10. Always be attentive, in prayer and out, to what God is saying.
  • Ask God to help you pray. John 14.13-14.
  • Join with other pray-ers. Matthew 18.19-20. There is power when Christians pray together.
  • Don't give up! Matthew 7.7. Keep praying as if your life depended on it.
  • Praise God. 1 John 5.14-15. Honoring God is crucial to our prayers.
  • Act on God's revelation. John 2.5. Be obedient to God's word.

PRAYER: Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner. I am not worthy to approach you, but you ask me to nonetheless. Thank you for your love. Make me more like you so that I may live in your will now and always. Amen.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

My Favorite Hamburgers

The hamburger is the best food there is. I am always on the lookout for a good hamburger. And although I am pretty sure that I will never find anything like the Newtburger, I have determined that these are some of the best "chain" hamburgers you will find.

Mind you, I have not been to every chain. I do not know about every hamburger. But if you have any sense at all you will find nothing to complain about with any of these.
  • Culver's
  • Johnny Rocket's
  • Chili's (especially the Peppercorn)
  • White Castle
  • Rally's/Checker's
  • Steak 'n Shake
And the one I just found...
  • Five Guys
What are your favorites?

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

The Race Conversation

I was watching a rerun episode of Seinfeld the other night when a lot of things came into focus for me. I saw my own prejudice, and of many others, come clearly into view. I saw perfectly the issues of race and conversation and how they have so far failed to come together.

But first, some context. Since Barack Obama appeared as a legitimate candidate for president there has been a mixture of excitement and dread among the "normal" thinking people in our country. We are excited about the fact that finally an African-American can run for, and become, President of the greatest nation in the world. There is dread because we know that there are dangers. Many, many people would love to see harm come to our president, some only because of his race.

Attorney General Eric Holder got into the fray a couple of weeks ago when he asserted that USA is a 'nation of cowards' because we have not had a good, positive and productive conversation about race. His assertion was that we are afraid to deal with hard issues and especially one that is so personal to so many.

Holder's comments set off a firestorm of controversy. Talking heads and pundits on the right and the left jumped into the fray. There were opinions spouted every which direction. I believe that most of the response was from embarrassment. People are embarrassed that Holder is right. We have not had these conversations. We are cowards. We are afraid of the truth.

The kernel of this problem, however, is not that we are afraid to deal with racism, but that we are so polite that we do not want to offend others. We want to be sure that what we say is not a problem to someone else. I take great pains to make sure that others do not think that I am a racist. Consequently, I never express my feelings. I do not get to give voice to my fears, anxieties and insecurities. Ultimately, my problems, as well as the problems of many others, are buried and never heard. 

We are a nation of cowards. I am a coward.

And so... Elaine and her boyfriend are sitting in a booth at Monk's Diner, the coffee shop. Elaine is excited because she believes that she is dating an African-American man. This makes her forward-thinking, cool and hip. However, she is not sure that he is African-American. The waitress comes to the table and congratulates the couple for their progressive thinking. It must be hard to be an interracial couple, she says.

That's when the truth comes out. Elaine gets excited because finally she has an excuse to pursue the ethnic heritage of her boyfriend, who, it turns out, is not black. However, he is relieved that he can finally talk about Elaine's 'Spanish' heritage. You see, he believes that he is dating an Hispanic woman. Of course, it turns out that they are both just ordinary, boring white people. 

At the end of this awkward scene Elaine says something that makes up in relevance what it lacks in profundity: "I don't think we should talk about this."

And that's where we are in America. When we are almost to the place where we can make progress on race relations, when we are about to have the conversation we get uncomfortable and change the subject.

It is time that we discussed 'the race card' and all it's implications... for everyone.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

My Lenten Challenge

I believe that a part of my purpose in life is to translate the Christian life and experience into small pieces that are easy to understand and put into practice. I work hard at encouraging people to live out the gospel in practical ways. I am not interested in moving people to great spiritual experiences until I am certain that they have conquered the simple experiences.

Many people, often including myself, are mystified by the Christian life. They do not understand the Bible. There is very little memory of any Christian tradition in families. Church buildings and furniture seem odd, or even intimidating to many people. My goal is to break these things down and encourage starting Christian faith at the beginning. There are weeks, months and years to get to the great themes and practices of faith.

Lent is one of those seasons that can easily leave a new Christian, or a potential Christ-follower, feeling on the outside. For that reason, this year I am suggesting some simple practices- disciplines, if you will- that anyone can conquer during these 40 days. We are already one week into the season, so that shortens the time you will have to do any of these (even simpler).
  • Pray at every meal. It is easy to forget. There are times when it is more convenient to not pray. Resist those temptations. Make it a matter of principle and priority that you will pray for the next few weeks. Pray at home. Pray at restaurants. Pray at work. Pray at school. All it takes is a few seconds of silence.
  • Attend every worship service. Go to church every Sunday. Many people find it easy to miss a service now and then. In fact, the most faithful church attenders only make it about four Sundays out of five. Go every week for these six weeks. Additionally, your church will be having extra services. Attend worship on Maundy Thursday and Good Friday. There may be a Sunrise service on Easter. Make sure that you make it to all of them.
  • Read the Bible every day. This one is easy. I do not think you have to read the whole Bible during Lent. Just read from the Bible each day. A few verses would be enough for most people. Just do it.
  • Write the Bible. This year I have challenged my church to copy Jesus' words from the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7). It is just a few verses every day. This will cause you to study the words. They will get into your mind and your heart. You will be able to meditate on what Jesus is saying. You will have time to hear God speaking to you. And you will have a lasting testament to God's faithfulness in the world and to you.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Weekly Prayer Thought

As the deer pants for the water brooks,
So pants my soul for You, O God.
My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.
When shall I come and appear before God? Psalm 42.1-2

The Bible is filled with poetic images. Many of the conventions of modern literature can be traced to the King James Version of the Bible. And there is a reason that the Bible- specifically the KJV- has endured so well. There is a reason that it has had this sort of influence. Aside from the life-giving nature of the content, the text is beautiful. There is one word-picture after another that cries out to be remembered.

In addition to being one such passage, today's Scripture teaches us about prayer as well. God is compared to water for the deer. At a time when an animal is desperate for water, the brook appears as a life preserving refreshment. That is exactly how God is for humans. We cannot survive without Him. He is a necessary part of our day to day living.

Naturally, this begs the question, "How do I maintain a connection to God, my life-source?" Prayer is the first key. But I am not merely advocating a milquetoast prayer that is half-serious. This is more than a "God is Great" kind of prayer. We must recognize that without God we cannot live. That means that our prayers ought to be filled with desperation for the presence, the blessing, the fullness of God.

It is easy for us to become complacent in our Christian lives. However, we must do everything we can to keep that from happening. The edge of your spirituality is understanding your deep and extreme need for God.

PRAYER: I lift up my voice and my life to you, Lord. I need you. I cannot survive without you. You have made me and I owe my life to you. Stay with me. Refresh me. Make me completely yours. Amen.