Friday, July 31, 2009

A Different Kind of Restaurant

In the USA we are all too fat. Let me clarify that, I am too fat. I eat too much. And here is the weirdest part, I love to eat out. It has become a social thing for me, and for many people. We do not go to one another's homes anymore for a visit. We plan a meal at the local pizza parlor, or maybe a trip to the coffee shop for latte and scones.

Either way- you can also fill in the name of your favorite restaurant- we end up eating too much when we go out. In fact, we judge restaurants by how much food we get for the least amount of money. Pizza buffets, all-you-can eat places and the like are more popular than ever. Every town is filled with charity groups who sponsor all you can eat pancake/fish/chicken meals.

Even when we are not gorging ourselves on the endless salad bar (which often does not have a lot of salad) we feel cheated if our portions are not huge. We are trained in this way. We have limitless bread, chips and salsa, bread sticks or peanuts before we even get to the meal. Many times I have been full before my food even arrives.

Then, when the meal is over, I take home enough food for another meal. And that food, I am sad to confess, is often forgotten in the fridge until it is not worth eating. It has come to the place that sometimes I do not even take my leftovers home.

Over the last year I have lost about 40 pounds. I would like to lose about that much more, but I have made a discovery. When I eat out, I don't lose weight. I eat too much.

So, here as an idea for some enterprising entrepreneur. Start a restaurant that is diet conscious. Serve smaller portions. Offer healthier selections. Use less processed food items. Make desserts flavorful, fruity and healthy.

We live in a nation that spends billions of dollars every year on dieting. We buy diet books, diet cook-books, diet videos, pre-packaged diet foods and meals, exercise equipment, health club memberships, Weight-watchers memberships and fees... You get the idea. This is a no-brainer. Give us a place where we can socialize and watch our weight.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

My Take on the Recession

I am not an expert on economics. In fact, I can barely balance my own check book. More frequently than I would like, I find myself counting the days until my next paycheck. No matter how much money I have or make, I feel like I need just a little bit more.

And therein lies the cause of the recession.

Yes, I am the cause of the recession. But so are you.

Our economy has been built on several factors. Some of them are not so attractive.
  • Madison Avenue. Our world, our value and our sense of self-worth has been developed by marketing campaigns from corporate advertising people. These people are able to convince you and I that we need the latest product, the fastest car, the sexiest jeans. We become certain that if we do not buy our clothes at the designer boutique that there is something wrong with us. Consequently, we begin to judge others by whether or not they are shopping at the latest place, or wearing the latest look.
  • Needing the unnecessary. A corollary implication to the marketing of the world is that we become convinced that we need things that are completely unnecessary. For example, I have a computer at my office and at my home. I am able to access high speed internet at both locations. Why then do I feel the need for a laptop computer as well. And if I get a new laptop (which I am sure that I do not need) will I then discover that I need a smart phone as well?
  • Credit Mindset. Our world is built on the "reality" that you no longer need to save and wait for a purchase. You can get what you want right now. I can use a charge card to get things. And too many people fall into the trap over and over again. We get too much debt, too quickly.
  • Avarice and Greed. Finally, we accept and applaud the very things that have put us where we are. We encourage people to get as much as they can. We believe- at least with our actions- that greed is good. We reward those who have the most, save the most, earn the most and keep the most. Our whole world encourages greed and consumption. It is no wonder that our landfills are full.

We must always remember, however, that the message of Jesus was to give and to care for the poor.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

What I'm Doing

Sometimes it seems that life is just too busy. It feels like there is always something to do. That there are not enough hours in the day. That some things get left undone so that more important things can get done. This is one of those weeks for me.

I have found that one of the simplest ways to organize myself, and accomplish what needs to be done, is to make a list. I know this is not revolutionary, but it is very effective. What follows is my current list of things that need to be done.

Fortunately, there are no people hospitalized that I need to care for. There are plenty of other issues, however.

  • HOPE Ministry/ Assimilation Program. Our churches need a specific plan to reach and retain the members and constituents of the congregations. I am working on a plan that will connect people more significantly with one another. This will increase our pastoral care and spiritual growth.
  • Prayer Book. I have been wanting to write a book on prayer for a number of years. I will be starting work on that project very soon.
  • Sermons. Every week there is a sermon. I am working several weeks ahead. Yet this year I will be doing a series on marriage and sex, one on Titus and a special Advent series on simplifying the celebration of Christmas. There is also a series on Psalms for 2010.
  • I am also in the middle of making some changes in our worship service. Adding music and readings, changing the order, etc.
  • I am also working on a new website for the church. This will be a comprehensive place for members, constituents and interested persons to get information about the church. It will be a professional-looking site that will be pleasing to everyone.
  • Fall planning. I am working on planning for the Fall at both churches. There are issues around Bible study groups, Kid's Club, the Coconut Hut, youth group, teen Bible studies and much more. All of these need to be considered and addressed.
  • Daily prayer and Bible time. Every day I (try to) spend an expanded period of time in prayer and Bible study. Although this does not always happen, it is always on my agenda to start the day. This is in addition to any sermon or teaching preparation that is required.
  • Finance plan. I recently presented to one of my churches a plan to help strengthen the financial situation of the church. This is still in the deliberation process.
  • Blogging. Another item that I plan to do several days every week.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Weekly Prayer Thought

When you fast, do not be like the hypocrites, with a sad countenance. For they disfigure their faces that they may appear to men to be fasting...when you fast. Matthew 6.16-17

Christians in the 21st century, in North America anyway, have really lost perspective on the Christian idea of sacrifice. For many of us, sacrifice is when we give up our cappuccino for a regular coffee with cream and no sugar. We think that we have really "suffered for Jesus" when we give a couple of hours to serve in a soup kitchen.

The discipline of fasting is almost completely lost among contemporary western Christians. We do not do it. We do not understand it. We do not see the need of it. But in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus assumed that all Christians would fast. He said, "When you fast," two times. There was no question. He did not say, "if you fast." It is a subtle, but important distinction.

Because of our inattention to fasting, there are several misconceptions about it. Let's dispel those right away.
  • Fasting is a great way to diet and lose weight. This is wrong on so many levels. To begin with, fasting is intended as a sacrificial act of denying oneself. Dieting is a way to improve oneself. Dieting, in this way of thinking, is a selfish act whereas fasting is focused completely on God.
  • Fasting is a way to bribe God so that I can get my way. Again, the motivation for fasting is to improve your relationship with God. Often this will mean that God tells you no. In fasting you open yourself to God's will, no matter what it might be.
  • Fasting is a way to get spiritual "brownie points." You may be tempted to think that people will think you are a spiritual giant if you fast. But Jesus says that you should let no one know that you are fasting.

When you fast... you can fast anything that is important to you. Some people have fasted the internet, television or golf, for a season of time. All of these are good things. More traditionally, Christians fast food or drink. Some have fasted a single meal each week, for a day each month, or one item for an extended period of time.

(One note: Before undertaking a fast, you may want to consult a physician, especially if you have any medical conditions. It may be that you will not be able to fast food, but will need to give up secular music, talk radio or soap operas.)

Lent is a traditional time in which Christians give up chocolate, soft drinks, salt or meat. The items that you fast, and the period of time are less important than the attitude of your heart.

  • Make sacrifices to remind yourself of the sacrifices that Jesus made for you.
  • Make sacrifices to remind yourself that your spirit is more important than your body.
  • Make sacrifices to demonstrate to yourself that you are in control of your desires and lusts.

Finally, when you are fasting, be sure to spend more time in prayer. If you fast a meal, take the time when you would have been eating and spend it with the Lord. You will be amazed at what a difference this will make in your spiritual life.

Prayer: Help me, o God, to get my body, my temptations and my desires to be in submission to you and your way. Lead me in an appropriate fast. Help me to know you more intimately and to let you know every part of me. In Jesus' name I pray. Amen.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Points to Ponder

Do not let something from your past- something you have done, or something that has been done to you- be an excuse to keep you from moving into God's plan for your future.

Optimism is

a way of life

a choice

an attitude.

Sometimes faith in God is confused with arrogance. When you are filled with God's purpose for your life it can seem like you are full of yourself.

The one with the B.O. is the last to know.

Long term vision requires-
long term commitment requires-
long term resources.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Of What Mind?

Eleanor Roosevelt said...
"Small minds discuss people. Average minds discuss events. Great minds discuss ideas."

I like that. It is very true. That's all I'm going to say about it.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Practices of the Christian Faith: Sabbath Keeping

Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Exodus 20.8

A lot of the practices that we have discussed this year are pretty familiar to us, at least in theory. We know about prayer, communion, baptism and the others. We also are aware of the Sabbath, but our practice of may be a little sketchy.

The history of Sabbath keeping does not begin with the giving of the Ten Commandments in Exodus 20. Although this is where the resting on one day is codified, the practice of it goes back much further. Remember the creation narrative in Genesis 1? God made all that is on six days. But on the seventh the work was complete and God rested. He set a precedent for all of us to follow for all time.

This is not to be seen as a strict legal requirement, however. Although it is the law, keeping the Sabbath is a command that is given for our own good. God made people in such a way that they need rest. Approximately one-third of each day is spent sleeping, resting so that our bodies can be prepared to serve God on a new day. Our souls also need rest. God’s plan was for people to rest their souls one day out of each week. The Sabbath was born not to give God our time and attention- although that is a good use of the Sabbath- the Sabbath was given so that our lives could be kept in balance. Our bodies and souls need rest and refreshment. God has always known that.

Let’s look at some common thoughts and misconceptions about Sabbath keeping.

  • The Sabbath is the day each week that I can catch up on my house and yard work. Although it may seem like this is the only time you can accomplish these things, that is not what the Sabbath is for. We should be focusing on rest, our relationship with God and spiritual renewal.
  • Sunday is not really the Sabbath. This is absolutely true. The Sabbath is the seventh day of the week, Saturday. Seventh-Day Adventists, Jewish people and others have this right. We celebrate Sunday, however, because it is the day of the resurrection of Jesus. Every week when we gather for worship, we celebrate Easter.
  • You can only keep the “Sabbath” on Sunday. This is not true. God’s desire is that you keep the Sabbath, not that you observe a particular day slavishly. You may have a job that causes you to work on Sunday. If that is the case, you can observe the Sabbath on another day.
  • On Sundays I should stay detached from the world. Although we need to focus on Christ and our relationship with him, we must never ignore the needs of those around us.
  • I can’t come to church on Sunday because it is the only day I have to sleep in. This is a good excuse, but usually it is not very accurate. For most people who work at full-time jobs, can sleep later on Sunday than any other day, and still get to church in plenty of time for worship.

Here’s a challenge: Keep the Sabbath for one month. Worship. Pray. Rest. Relax. Get to know God again. You will not be sorry.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Weekly Prayer Thought

And when you pray...when you pray... And when you pray... In this manner, therefore, pray... Matthew 6.5, 6, 7, 9

This truth is so simple that we might miss it, but so powerful that we had better not. Read the whole passage from the Sermon on the Mount, but do not overlook these simple words: "When you pray."

Note a couple of things about them.
  • To begin with, Jesus spoke these words. They are the words of the Lord of life. These thoughts come from the lips of God himself. This is important.
  • He said "When you pray" three times. Repetition would seem to indicate that there is something important about these words.
  • Three times Jesus assumes prayer. One time he instructs us how to pray.

There are too many of us who should pray. We know that we ought to. Still we do not. Not only do we not pray enough, but unfortunately, we do not pray at all. What a tragedy for Christians. The starting point of our Christian life should be prayer. Pray. Pray. Pray.

Jesus does not seem to tell his disciples- or us, for that matter- that we should pray. He assumes that it is already happening. The bottom line for all Christians, no matter what level of spiritual maturity, is that we should be praying.

When you pray...

When you pray...

When you pray...

This is how to pray.

Begin to pray. The practice of prayer will teach you much about how to do it. Then listen to how Jesus says you should pray.

Prayer: Lord God, I want to pray. But there are distractions, there are conflicts. There are sometimes that I am not in the mood. At others there is not enough time. I want to pray, but I need help with my prayerlessness. Work on me, and work in me. Amen.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

We Need a Yearbook Website

I was reading the newspaper a couple of weeks ago when I saw a photo and an article that looked very familiar. The woman in the picture looked like a girl I went to high school with 20- some years ago. However, I could not be sure. After all, she was married. Her name was different. She was older. Her hair was different. And besides all that, the article said that she lived in a town that was nowhere near my high school. What would she be doing there?

I Googled her. I looked on Facebook and MySpace. I tried everything I could to find out if this mystery woman was in fact my high school friend. I spent a lot of time reminiscing. I remembered classes we had taken together. I thought about the crush I had on her best friend. One thing led to another and I went to the basement for the yearbook.

That is when it struck me. What we need is a website with yearbooks on it. It would be a huge undertaking, but it would be very convenient if we could go to one place to find High School and College yearbook photos and information on celebrities and civilians. Yearbooks could be sorted by year, by state and by region. Photos could also be made available alphabetically.

I know that it does not seem important, but this would have saved me a lot of time as I was looking for information on my friend.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Weekly Prayer Thought

Most assuredly, I say to you, he who believes in Me, the works that I do he will do also; and greater works than these he will do, because I go to My Father. John 14.12

When I was in seminary I took a class on cults and Christianity. In some quarters of the church there is a question as to whether or not these groups are truly cults, but we spent time discussing Mormons, Jehovah's Witnesses, Christian Scientists and others. As a part of the requirements for the course, we attended services at each of those churches. It was interesting to say the least.

I learned a lot in the course, as you might guess, but there is one thing that stuck with me. Christian Scientists believe in healing, but they do not believe in miracles. You see, a miracle is when something unexpected and out of the ordinary happens. An answer to prayer, a healing, should not be unexpected. When we pray, with faith, we should anticipate that the thing will be done. We should see answers to prayer.

So here are a couple of questions for us:
  • Should we be praying with an expectation (faith) that God is going to answer our prayers?
  • When prayers are answered should we consider those answers miracles?
  • How should we adjust our thinking, prayers and expectation?

If we pray, believing that God is going to do something, he will. This will cause us to increase our prayers. And increasing our prayers will increase the number of answers we get. Consequently, when we get more answers we will expect more answers. This sort of prayer-faith-answer cycle will repeat itself as long as we participate in it.

Here is one more example. This spring there was a group of us doing a mission at Kokomo Urban Outreach in Kokomo, Indiana. One of their projects was to prepare Easter baskets for local families who were in economic difficulties. They had received several donations, but did not know the exact number of baskets they had received. One of our tasks was to inventory the supplies to make sure there were enough baskets to meet the requests. As one group was counting the baskets on hand, another was counting the requests that had been received. "Miraculously," both totals came to 207. The response of the KUO staff and volunteers was very nonchalant. They were used to God answering prayers in this sort of dramatic way.

Prayer: I have seen answers to prayer, o Lord, but I would love to see more. Help me to expect your work in my life and with my needs. Make me faithful and prayerful so that you can work in the world. In Jesus' name. Amen.

Friday, July 10, 2009

An Open Letter to Lily

Dear Lily,

You recently came to me with some interesting questions. Unfortunately, I did not feel like I got the opportunity to answer you properly. This note will hopefully fix that problem. It will make me feel better at least.

The gist of your questions, as I remember and understand them, was "Do people who are not Christians go to heaven?" There were some specifics to your questioning that are not dealt with here, but the general idea is the same. I would like to answer you by asking (and answering) three questions of my own.

  • Who are Christians? This is the problem, isn't it? For you and I are not qualified to judge the spiritual commitment of another. And even if we were, we are in no position to declare someone right or wrong. But, we believe what we believe. We believe it because it seems right. There is evidence to support our faith and we think that it is true. That means that we have begun judging. If my faith is right, then someone else's faith is necessarily wrong. Your question had to do with Mormons, and we are often asked questions about Jehovah's Witnesses, Christian Scientists, Seventh Day Adventists and others whose beliefs seem different from our own. My recommendation to you is that you decide what it is that you believe, what is important for your faith, and then to begin to evaluate it in relation to the beliefs of others.
  • Who gets to go to heaven? This question gets to the heart of the issue. If my beliefs are right, then someone else must be wrong. For example, Jesus cannot be the Son of God and only a good teacher and example for us to follow. He must be one or the other. I believe that we must believe in Jesus as God to get to heaven. Therefore, those who do not believe that must not get to go to heaven.
  • How should we relate to others? Here is where it gets complicated. I do not have to believe what Mormons do, and they do not have to believe like me. And if we choose to disagree, we can be civil and loving to one another. Just because someone disagrees with me does not mean that I should- or ever would- commit them to hell. I need to offer them love, understanding and patience. More people will be won to my way of thinking through grace and peace than through argument and antagonism.

I am not sure if this will help you, but it does help me to systematize my thoughts. I hope that you can find peace with your questions, your friends and your faith.

God bless you.

Uncle Dewey

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Thinking About Thinking

I recently began a conversation with a relatively close friend. This friend is great fun and someone that I enjoy spending time with. There have been many wonderful conversations and experiences through the years. But this time there was only the beginning of a conversation. It never got concluded.

There were a group of people involved, but I was a primary participant, at least for awhile. You see, I could not stay in the discussion. I was not excluded, or expelled, but it was clear that my ideas were not welcomed. Although I felt as though my thoughts were reasonable, and my arguments were thoroughly thought out and rational, they were rejected out of hand.

At the risk of being accused of "sour grapes" I have come to a simple conclusion: Some people develop opinions so that they do not have to think for themselves or consider new ideas.

When I recognized this philosophy- or lack of philosophy- in my friend, I knew that there was no point in my continued involvement in the discussion. Although myself, and others, had differing opinions, there was no room for discussion or debate.

This lack of intellectual engagement is the result of several factors.
  • Talk radio gives us the opinions of "experts" so that we do not have to trouble ourselves with the messy work of thinking.
  • Cable news channels show us what is important 24 hours a day. We do not have to think about anything else. We do not need new ideas, we can find them on CNN and Fox.
  • Laziness allows us to accept what we are told. It is much easier to appropriate someone else's thoughts than it is to work on my own.

I know that it is hard, but you and I need to think for ourselves. There is nothing wrong with taking the opinion of someone else into consideration, but use it to make your own choices. Listen to talk radio, but read a newspaper too. Watch Fox News, but temper that with some time listening to NPR. And always be willing to listen and consider the thoughts of others. In fact, I suggest that you regularly listen to and read people with ideas that are different from your own. Get your brain in shape! Work it out!

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

The King is Dead (#2)

Each summer while I was in high school our marching band would spend one week in the summer at Band Camp at Ball State University in Muncie, Indiana. This was always one of the highlights of the year for us band geeks. We stayed in college dorms and thought we were big stuff. We stayed up too late, goofed off, worked, marched, sweated and more. And something significant always seemed to happen. For example, one year I fell in love for the first time. Another time there was something of more consequence: Elvis died.

That is why it felt like deja vu two weeks ago while attending my church's Annual Conference, at Ball State, when I learned that Michael Jackson had died unexpectedly: First the King of Rock, now the King of Pop. I better stop going to events at Ball State.

There has already been too much said and too much written about Michael Jackson in these 13 days, but I want to add a little more to the pile. These are some observations I have made about Mr Jackson and his musical and cultural significance.
  • There are many sins forgiven and forgotten when a person dies. It seems that all the controversy and negativity toward Jackson have disappeared. It is almost like there were never accusations of abuse, eccentricity and just plain weirdness. Never mind that his face changed with every album or that his skin kept getting lighter. Now that he is dead, people are truly focusing on only the good things.
  • Jackson's influence in the world has been almost exclusively cultural. He changed the way people thought about celebrity. He was literally world famous. And in some places he was that rare celebrity who is famous for being famous. He came along at the perfect time. His product was perfect for MTV at a time when MTV needed a product. The two were a match made in heaven. In this way, MJ was a lot like Elvis. He was in the right place at the right time.
  • Also like Elvis, Jackson's musical contribution was somewhat minimal. There was not much new that Jackson brought to contemporary music. He was successful in taking R&B to a white audience, but that was more marketing that innovation. If there had never been a Michael Jackson music today would still sound pretty much the same.
  • The one way in which Jackson's influence has been profound is that before Michael singers did not have to be dancers. Today there is an expectation that people who sing will also be people who dance. I am not sure that this is a good development.