Friday, May 29, 2009

The Jerry Garcia Game

I noticed several years ago that in almost any crowd there is at least one person who looks like Jerry Garcia. Jerry Garcia, as I am sure that you all remember, was the bearded leader of the Grateful Dead. This phenomenon became amazing to me. Everywhere I looked there was Jerry Garcia, even though I knew that he was dead. That made me notice other people. You would not believe how many people look like someone else, famous or not.

Yesterday when we were having lunch in a restaurant we saw a man at the next table who could have passed for the character actor M. Emmett Walsh. These 'sort of' celebrities are all around you. Open your eyes.

So play this game the next time you are with a group and in a crowd. Find someone who looks like someone else. Point out your look-alike to your companions. Everyone then gets to vote on whether or not the look-alike really looks like who you say. If the person looks like a celebrity, you get two points for every yes vote. If the person looks like a personal friend or acquaintance, you get one point for every yes vote.

And here's one variation: Play the game finding look-alikes for family members, friends and acquaintances. No celebrities allowed. This one will be a little harder because everyone in your group will probably not know everyone you know. But you will see people who look like your cousin, your dog groomer, or your local barista. You will be surprised, but it will be a lot of fun.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

The Practices of a Christian: The Lord's Supper

The Lord’s Supper, also called Holy Communion or the Eucharist, is one of two sacraments in the United Methodist Church. Other denominations recognize other practices as sacraments, but UMs hold that in Baptism and Holy Communion God’s grace is especially present and significant. To begin with, of all the practices and procedures that are considered sacraments- including last rites, confession, foot washing and others- Communion and Baptism are the only ones that Jesus specifically instructed his followers to practice. We are to be baptized and receive communion.

In communion God works in a very wonderful and mysterious manner. He speaks to us as he enters us. He is present, literally, as we take the bread and cup. Many like to think of communion as an “outward sign of an inward grace.” I do not like that definition. It is true in as far as it goes, but it does not go far enough. Communion, or the act of eating and drinking, is not merely a sign. It is in the eating and drinking that Jesus is present. His grace is given and received as we eat and drink. When we take the bread into our bodies, we are taking Christ into our lives.

There are many controversies surrounding communion. Most of them are ancillary to the importance of what God is doing.
  • Where is Christ? This is a very divisive issue. Many Christians believe that the bread and cup actually become Jesus’ body and blood. They hold that the communion must be cared for in special ways because it is literally Christ. Others hold that the bread and cup are “elements,” or that they represent or symbolize taking Jesus into our lives. I prefer the middle ground. When we eat and drink, we are literally receiving Christ, but the bread is not Christ.
  • Intinction or not? Many are concerned about the method of receiving communion. There are several different practices among Christians and churches. Some like to drink from small cups. Others prefer to dip bread into a cup. Still others use wafers and drink from a common cup. There is no right way. God’s grace is available and active in every situation and circumstance. Each person and congregation has its own favored way of celebrating.
  • Wine or Juice? Some groups use wine because that is what Jesus used at the Last Supper. Others use non-fermented juice. Again, I see no difference. I prefer to use juice so that no one is offended by wine, but God’s grace could work in communion if we used Pepsi and Oreo cookies.
  • How often? Many Christians celebrate the Lord’s Supper, or Mass, weekly. Others do so less frequently. John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, was an advocate for celebrating communion at every gathering of believers. One argument against frequent communion is that people will take it for granted and the practice will begin to lose its significance. I do not believe that is necessarily the case, but care should always be taken to never lose sight of the work of God.

There are some people who do not participate, appreciate or enjoy communion. My suggestion to all followers of Jesus is to always receive the gifts of the Lord at every opportunity.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Weekly Prayer Thought

When you pray, you shall not be like the hypocrites. For they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the corners of the streets, that they may be seen by men. Matthew 6.5

Prayer is a simple and powerful tool that can often be intimidating. Many are lost on the way to prayer because it seems overwhelming. We don't know where to begin. The cares of the world, after all, are huge. I am just one person. Even if I pray hard, what difference can it possibly make?

Many times we get stumped in efforts to pray before we even get to the praying. One reason is that for too many people, we have never been taught how to pray. We are lost when it comes to what we should say or do. And yet we know Jesus' words were "When you pray," not, "If you pray."

So, here is an old pattern that you can use for your prayer time. Use this acrostic to remind you of the different areas that you should pray in. I use this pattern more than any other prayer-method. It works.

  • A- Adoration. Praise God for all he has done and all that he is. Tell him how much you love him. Spend time reminding God, and yourself, how great he is.
  • C- Confession. The Bible is very clear that every human is sinful. We need to confess and repent of our sins. God will forgive us, but we must be honest and open with him. This part of prayer should never be neglected or taken lightly.
  • T- Thanksgiving. The Lord has done many things for you. Never forget to be thankful for them. Thank him for forgiveness, for life, for salvation, for family, for answers to prayer... The list is endless.
  • S- Supplication. This is when you ask God for things. Notice that you ask for your needs after you have established and built a relationship with God. He will answer in the context of our relationship with him.

Use this prayer model each day this week. Watch what a difference it makes in your life.

Prayer: Help me to pray, dear God. Eliminate the excuses I have for neglecting you and my responsibility to pray. Make me faithful. Make me holy. Make me yours. Amen.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

How it Starts

I have a friend who is not particularly religious. He is a good person. He values honesty, integrity and loyalty. He does not use foul language or have any of the traditional sinful vices. He doesn't drink, smoke, gamble or use drugs. He has no need for religion or God. He thinks that he is an atheist, but I am not sure. It is not that he rejects God, it is just that he doesn't see a need for God.

Recently he came to me overcome with guilt. I will not go into details about his "sin," it is sufficient to say that he felt bad for what he had done. I am not sure that he would call it sin, but to the average religious person, to nearly all Christians, it would be considered sin.

This is a great place for him to consider re-evaluating his views on God, faith, religion and sin. There is no question that he is suffering from a guilty conscience. But why? If there is no God, why feel bad about violating God's rules? Why should anyone ever feel guilty for anything. The plain and simple answer is that we know we sin. We know that we mess up. There is a standard of behavior that is built into us and when we do not live up to it God sends us a warning message. That message comes in the form of a guilty conscience.

First of all, guilt comes because we have done something wrong. We can only do wrong if we are aware that some things are right. That is, if there are no values in life, no good, no bad, no beauty, there is no need for guilt.

Guilt is the result of doing something that is bad, or not doing something that we should do, that we know to be good. Our guilt, the bad feelings that we get when we are in violation of anything good, is a gift from God. This is foundational to the views of most Christians and nearly all religious people around the world. If there are no absolute values, there is no guilt. Therefore, the presence of guilt seems to imply that there is a definite standard for right and wrong.

I do not believe that right and wrong are arbitrary designations based on what is popular or positive. Right comes from God. Wrong does not. We can agree on what is right because we all come from the same place- morally at least. We all know that murder is bad and that caring for your children is good. We know this because a higher power- God- instilled those values in us.

Guilt comes because we have violated God's order. Guilt is not a human invention and it is not administered by humans. God dispenses guilt to those who need it.

So, I say to my friend who is suffering today, embrace your guilt. It is a gift from God. Evaluate where you have gone wrong. Find out how to make it right. Change your life to avoid those mistakes in the future. And thank God for setting you on the right path.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

What We Need

The world has been blessed by the internet. I know that there are a lot of problems. There are addictions, predators and other evil and bad boogey-men out there in the online world. The most popular searches and websites are of an illicit origin. The most profitable websites are pornographic and the most dangerous- in my opinion- are gambling sites. There is also a lot of misinformation on the world wide web. And yet, I believe that the internet is a great new world.

There are new opportunities for making connections and networking. There are great avenues for learning and growth. The convenience of shopping for goods and services is amazing. The internet has made the world smaller in a lot of good ways.

One of the most beneficial- and sometimes suspect- sites is Wikipedia is a website that seeks to cover every topic in an encyclopedic way. The key to its success is that it is user-generated. That means that people, just like you and I, contribute to wikipedia. We make entries, additions and corrections. When it is good, it is because of our contributions. When it is wrong, we can be blamed for that as well.

I believe that there is a need for a similar website for Christian users. A Christian wiki site would include various doctrines, biographies, history, denominations, movements, events, and more. It could be a useful tool for everyone interested in Christianity, the church and the church's place in the world.

What do you think?

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Two and a Half What??

The other day the television was on in my house at around 6pm. I was in another room of the house, but from time to time I passed through the family room and gave passing attention to what was on tv. It was Two and a Half Men. In the six or so years that this has been on television I have watched it a couple of times. I was not impressed. It didn't seem funny to me. Just so you know, it still doesn't seem funny to me.

But the lack of humor is not what get me interested that day. I was interested in the content of the jokes. I did not do a study of it, but there seemed to be a lot of jokes about sex, penises, vaginas and other graphic "R" rated things.

I am not a prude. I do not believe that adult humor and situations are always wrong. There are times and circumstances when grown-ups need to be grown-ups. There is nothing evil or inappropriate about discussion, or even joking, about sex. My problem with this was that it was being broadcast at 6pm.

This is a time when many young people are watching television unsupervised. Parents, if they are at home, are often pre-occupied with preparing dinner, watching the news or other early evening pursuits. Children, adolescents and teens are left to their own devices.

It is no wonder that we have so many unwanted teen pregnancies. This is a part of the explanation behind the casual attitude that young people have about sex. They are saturated with sex talk, they watch it on tv, they hear it at school. That is why they send nude pictures of themselves via text message and email. They are surrounded with it. Why not participate in it?

No one is innocent here. Such television programs should not be broadcast during hours when children will be more likely to watch them. Parents should do a better job of monitoring their children's viewing practices and other activities. Children should learn to say no to such media.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Weekly Prayer Thought

Then Moses said, “I will now turn aside and see this great sight, why the bush does not burn.” Exodus 3.3

I came across an interesting thought the other day. It is not a new thought, not to me anyway. But it was important enough that I noticed it.

Prayer is listening to God so that he can change us, not talking so that we can change him.

I know, it's very simple. But too often it is not the way that I approach prayer. I use prayer as a sounding board. I tend to us God as a cosmic-analyst who helps me process my complaints, aches and pains. I talk and talk and bellyache and talk some more. And when I am done I trust that God will solve all my problems. That makes me feel better.

Don't get me wrong. I am an advocate for telling God your problems. I believe that we should take our concerns and petitions to the Lord. However, we should never spend so much time talking to God, that we are unable to listen to him. Moses is a perfect example of this. He had a conversation with God. Moses told the Lord all the reasons why he was unable to lead the people out of Egypt, and yet, Moses was changed by the encounter.

We should be changed when we pray. We should listen to God and allow his word to change us, to shape us. Our opinions, attitudes and actions should all be shaped by what happens in our prayer time. The mark of true prayer is that God will change you, not that you will change God.

If God has not changed you lately, it probably time to evaluate your prayer life. Could it be that you are not praying enough? Are you not praying at all? Or, is your prayer time filled with your own agenda, with little attention given to God's will for your life. Listen next time you pray.

Prayer: Speak to me and change me today, o Lord..............................Amen.

Friday, May 15, 2009

My Favorite Things

I love lists, and I make a lot of them. Here is a list of some of my favorite things. Some of these might be a little surprising, even to people who know me well.
  • Google. I email, blog and calendar on Google. I use Reader and Youtube. I am not sure where I would be without Google. Oh, I also browse the web on Google Chrome.
  • Independent News Weeklies. Whenever I venture to a new city, I try to find a local newspaper that focuses on local arts, entertainment, dining and alternative news. These papers are usually free and fun to read.
  • Sunshine and warm weather. As I write this, it is trying to become spring outside. I can hardly wait. If winter could be 75 degrees, life would be great. By the way, a cold day with sun may be better than warm and overcast.
  • Reading on the beach. Sitting in the sun is a lot of the fun, but a good book- ahhh. The sound of the waves- ohhh. I feel better just thinking about it.
  • Children laughing. On a bad day try searching for baby laughing at Youtube. It'll change your world.
  • Good music. I love any music that is creative, interesting and innovative. I am energized by a great song. I am helped by a good one.
  • Live music. Music is always better, I think, live and in person. Even a bad performance is fun just because it is real... and exciting.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Weekly Prayer Thought

“Do not cease to cry out to the LORD our God for us, that He may save us from the hand of the Philistines.” 1 Samuel 7.8

Everyone is required to pray. There is an automatic expectation that each of us should- and will- bring our needs and the needs of others to God. We all know that we should be praying, and we feel very guilty when we do not pray. That is one issue that every Christian must deal with on his/ her own. But in this verse we get the beginnings of a thought that is something else entirely.

While every Christian has a minimum responsibility for prayer, there are some Christians who are specifically called to be intercessors. These people are used by God for the special ministry of praying for the needs of others. You know some people like this. There are people that you call to pray for your family. Those are intercessors. The one you wish you could talk to when you are in a crisis is an intercessor. Samuel was an intercessor. The people believed that his prayers were more effective and significant. This is important for Christians for several reasons.

  • There are people that you can count on to pray for your needs. If you haven't found an intercessor, start to look for one. There are people in your family, in your church or in your community who will get energized by praying for you.
  • Discern whether or not you are called to be an intercessor. It could be that you are missing one of the great blessings of your life in Christ. Pray. Pay attention to your praying. Maybe God is calling you to be a pray-er.
  • Do not be afraid to share your needs and concerns with an intercessor. Many people are embarrassed about their own needs. A true intercessor will not be in judgment, but will pray for you and your needs with a spirit of love and support.

Prayer: Are you calling me to be an intercessor, Jesus? Am I supposed to lift up the needs of others? Who is someone I can share my needs with? Lead me to pray in the way that you want me to. Show me who can be a prayer partner, pray confidant or an intercessor for me. Thank you for that, Lord. Amen.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Ten Issues

I am almost finished with all the talk about gay marriage. I am a Christian, and one that believes that the Bible is true and should be followed. I believe that the practice of homosexuality is a sin in the sight of God. However, it is time that Christians began to focus on some other issues that are at least as important as gay marriage.

Ten Sins that are Legal-
Each of these things is legal in the USA, but are certainly sinful (or could be considered sinful) to God. For every minute that Christians spend arguing against gay marriage they should be forced to spend one minute on each of these as well.
  1. Divorce. Jesus could not have been more clear.
  2. Adultery. This one made the Ten Commandments.
  3. Pornography. It's not in the Bible, but does it really need to be?
  4. Drinking. I am claiming an extenuating circumstance on this one. Drinking alcohol is alright in God's eyes, but drunkenness is not.
  5. Drugs. If your body is a Temple...
  6. Smoking/ Tobacco. See #5.
  7. Gambling. If it belongs to God, why let it get away?
  8. Gluttony. The hardest one for all of us fat preachers.
  9. Promiscuity/ Hooking Up. There is a whole new language for fornication. (Think sexting.)
  10. Government and business corruption. Nothing more needs to be said.
Ten Issues that Christians tend to Ignore- (that are too important to ignore)
There are also several things facing the world today that are way more serious and potentially devastating than gay marriage. If Christians would seriously and systematically address these things we could see positive change in the world relatively quickly.
  1. Poverty. People in the USA are the wealthiest people in the world. Ugandans live on less than $1 each day.
  2. World Hunger. It's related to poverty, but it is much bigger than that. What if we could stop wasting food and feed someone in Darfur?
  3. Malaria and other diseases. Many of the diseases that kill people throughout the world do not exist here. We know how to get rid of them.
  4. Human trafficking/ slavery. Too many people think this is a problem of the past.
  5. War/ oppression. We westerners think the only wars are in Iraq and Afghanistan. How silly we are.
  6. Racism and bigotry. No one is just like me, and that is a wonderful thing.
  7. Climate change. Have you heard enough about this? If the scientists are wrong we should still be taking better care of the earth.
  8. Education. We take schools for granted. Too many people are illiterate.
  9. Health care. We have this problem even in the US. People should be able to see a doctor and receive medication. No matter what.
  10. HIV/AIDS. We have it within our power to make a radical difference in this fight.
Ten Things that threaten Marriage-
One of the top arguments against gay marriage is that it is a threat to traditional marriage and the traditional family. I believe that heterosexuals have already done a good job of ruining marriage. Consider the following things that threaten marriage.
  1. Selfishness. When people decide that personal happiness is the most important thing, marriages suffer.
  2. Divorce. Christian people get divorced more than non-Christian people. Over half of couples get divorced. I don't know how two men getting married is more of a threat than that.
  3. Pornography. It is more available than every before. It sets unreasonable expectations and creates an atmosphere of jealousy and secrecy.
  4. Bad friendships. There are some people who encourage flirting and infidelity.
  5. Improper relationships. Many people have a tendency to flirt with those they are not married to.
  6. Unfaithfulness. This one is a killer.
  7. Keeping secrets. Hiding things from a mate is nearly always terminal.
  8. Not communicating. Holding your tongue and holding your feelings can be fatal.
  9. Jealousy. Wanting to control your spouse will create an adversarial relationship.
  10. Neglect. Lack of emotional investment or time will lead to separation and divorce.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Of Mice, Men and Death

You know the story of Of Mice and Men. I know it too. I read the book first when I was in college. I have seen a couple of movies based on Of Mice and Men. I know a lot about the story, the setting, etc. But I was still not prepared for my recent re-reading.

First of all, I love the writing of John Steinbeck. I have never been disappointed by any of his work. I went into a depression for weeks after I finished Grapes of Wrath. I still cannot think about nursing mothers in the same way. Steinbeck has a way of moving me that no one else does. His work is informative and educational without being preachy. I find it to be moving without corny-ness.

So I knew that I would enjoy Of Mice and Men. What I didn't expect (or remember) was the lessons that there are to learn here. If you have never read this book- or haven't read it recently- do it right away.
  • Killing a man for killing a man is worse- at least harder- than just killing a man. There is some violence in this book. There is no way around it. In fact, there is no story without the violence. Lennie, a large, powerful and simple-minded man, is not a violent character. He is a man who does not know his own strength and does not understand the consequences of his actions. His co-worker/ best friend George is trapped in a relationship with Lennie that is fraught with difficulties. George learns that some times death is better than other options, but that it is never good.
  • Sometimes a person is killed for mercy. Without giving away too much of the plot line, let me say that death is sometimes better than life. Animals are destroyed when they are injured or too ill to recover. Of Mice and Men seems to endorse that thought, even for humans. One more step to euthanasia.
  • This story reminded me of the Clint Eastwood film, Million Dollar Baby. There are no boxers or car accidents here, but the issues are sometimes similar. Read the book, then watch the movie and see if you don't agree.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

I Don't Believe in Atheists

There is a long tradition of atheism and agnosticism in the west. We extol the virtues of the mind, free-thinking and reasoning, and for many this leads to the diminishing of any serious consideration of God. In some enlightened circles atheism is the standard frame of reference for all things. If you use your mind at all, the thinking goes, you will realize that religion- any religion- is simply superstition.

My first problem with this line of thought is an old argument from the field of Christian apologetics. To be an atheist, to not believe in God, implies that you know what it is you do not believe in. Therefore, God must exist since you know what God is. If God is all-powerful, all-knowing and all-present, then the best a person can do is to say that he does not believe that what others think about God is true. A person cannot truly be an atheist, but merely an agnostic- one who has doubts about the existence of God.

But recently I came across a new approach. I think that this is absolutely true. There are many people who call themselves atheists simply because they are too lazy to think about, learn about or decide about God. It is much easier to not think, than it is to think. Most people do not examine their lives and beliefs at all. We come up with labels for people, institutions and ideologies so that we can dismiss them or address them in the shortest amount of time possible. I believe that many people accept the label "atheist" so they do not have to do the hard work of thinking about what they truly believe about God.

God help them, and us!

Monday, May 4, 2009

Weekly Prayer Thought

Strive together with me in prayers to God for me, that I may be delivered from those in Judea who do not believe, and that my service for Jerusalem may be acceptable to the saints, that I may come to you with joy by the will of God, and may be refreshed together with you. Romans 15.30-32

There are many ways to look at this passage. Last week we focused on prayer for ourselves and our own needs. However, the original intent of Paul was to request prayer for himself as a leader in the church. This should help us to understand how to effectively pray for our leaders in the church, in our denomination and in the context of the larger Christian world. While praying this week consider praying for your leaders in the following ways- all taken from Paul's writings here.
  • Pray for protection and safety. Our leaders are under assault by the enemy, Satan, on a daily basis. Pray that they will be "delivered from unbelievers" and kept from all harm to themselves and their families.
  • Pray that their work will be effective. No one gets blessed by ineffectiveness. We need to pray that our leaders will have wisdom, be guided by God and committed to the Lordship of Jesus.
  • Pray that they will be filled with joy. Nothing makes life more terrible than a lack of joy. Nothing makes ministry more of a chore than lack of joy. Pray that your leaders will find fulfillment and contentment in their service of the Lord, and their service to you.
  • Pray that they will be refreshed. Every Christian, and especially leaders, need to be spiritually renewed regularly. In the old days we had revivals. That's what we need today. Pray that those who offer you leadership in spiritual matters will be refreshed, renewed and revived in their own spiritual lives and walk with the Lord.

Prayer: Lord God, I pray that you would work in, with and for my leaders. Keep them safe and in your care. Help them to do your will and to do in the best way possible. Fill them with your joy and renew their hearts in your presence. Amen.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Inventions, Time-Savers and World-Changers

I used to write from time to time in a blog on my MySpace page ( I am not writing on there any longer because it just takes up too much time, but from time to time I will include some of that kind of thing on this blog. Today is one of those entries. I hop you enjoy.

Here are some thoughts that will make the world a better place.
  • The Family Hotel Room. Many hotels are beginning to realize that when more than one person is staying in a room, there is a difficulty in the bathroom. When a family has to shower, shave, brush, do make-up, etc., it takes a lot of time, and some room and coordination. This could be simplified if hotels would offer family rooms. These rooms would have a separate area for the toilet, sink and shower. In this way three different people can be getting ready at the same time. Of course, just putting an extra sink outside the bathroom would go a long way in fixing this problem.
  • Destination Weather in the Airport. You have been there. You sit in the gate area of the airport waiting for your flight. Of course you wonder about the weather in whatever city you are traveling to. However, in most airports you will see only a generic national weather outlook from Atlanta (CNN) or weather from the city you are leaving. Airports should have weather reports for the cities that travelers are going to. Then we could be prepared for what to expect when we land.
  • Re-cycling sea water. This is something that really needs to happen. Someone needs to learn how to de-salinate the water from our oceans. There are several advantages to this, not the least of which are helping to alleviate drought conditions wherever and whenever they exist, and avoiding the disaster that may be coming of the Polar Ice caps melt and raise ocean levels. There will be too much salt water. We should be using it.