Friday, December 31, 2010

Old Ways are Better?

There is nothing in the entertainment world that is more economical and fun than renting a video and ordering a pizza. This is one of the great pleasures of life for my family. Pizza is the greatest food and movies are the most fun. What a riot.

At Christmas time our family watches Christmas movies. We have some favorites that we watch every year. It's a Wonderful Life, Christmas Vacation, Holiday Inn and A Christmas Story, among others, all get an annual tour in our video player. It is one of our great family holiday traditions. But this year, there was a change in the custom.

A few weeks ago there was an ad in the paper for a special showing of White Christmas at the Riviera Theater in Three Rivers, Michigan. What a great thing. The Riviera is an old, downtown movie house on the main street of a small town. There are about 300 seats in the theater that has been lovingly restored. It is a beautiful place.

I had been wanting to see the theater anyway, but now they were going to be showing one of our annual Christmas films. BINGO! We have a winner. A classic film on the big screen is a dream come true.

So we went. It was a great time. Here are some observations.
  • Watching a movie with a crowd is way more fun than watching at home with just the family. There times that I was laughing out loud just because someone else thought something was funny. Everything was more enjoyable because there was a group response to the action on the screen.
  • Bing Crosby is creepy looking when his head is that big. His eyes are very blue, but there are wrinkles and make up that I have never been unable to see on my television at home. Additionally, Vera Ellen, who I have always thought was nice looking, is a little bit funny looking at that size as well.
  • When I watch movies at home, I get sleepy. In fact, I almost always fall asleep. There is an energy generated with a group of people that keeps me going, however. I have seen White Christmas at least once a year for 20+ years, and yet it help my interest this time as much as the first time I saw it.
So here is my verdict: Movies are more fun with a crowd in a theater. I will refuse to even argue this point.

Monday, December 20, 2010

The 4 Most Important Things

There are many people who make Christianity way too complicated. There is too much to know, believe and memorize. We are told how to dress, live, think and breathe. We must worship in certain ways and raise our children to a certain standard. All of this is exhausting and can easily defeat even the most faithful follower of Jesus.

The Christian life can be narrowed down to a few basics, however. Fundamentals- at least in terms of religion- have gotten a bad name, but it is not necessarily a bad word. There are, I propose, four essentials that all Christians may attend to so that they can continue to live and grow in the Christian life.
  • Bible study. Every person who wants to be called by the name Christian needs to be familiar with the “playbook.” The history of our faith (as well as the future), the doctrines of our belief and the pattern for our lives is all found in these 66 books. A time of daily study and reading is important for every believer.
  • Prayer. There is nothing more essential to the Christian life than prayer. Just as your relationship with your spouse will falter without regular communication, so will your relationship with God. Be sure to pray daily. Talk to God frequently, throughout the day. And be sure to listen to what he has to say to you as well.
  • Fellowship. This is the easiest of all these. Spend time with other followers of Jesus. They will help to inspire you. You will be encouraged to be faithful, to avoid temptation and to deeper levels of commitment and service. You should also be sure that you spend ample time fellowshipping with your Creator in worship.
  • Ministry. There is nothing that will accelerate your growth in faith more quickly than being involved in ministry. This could mean that you participate in a mission trip with others, that you volunteer for a new position at church, or that you share your faith with someone at work. In any case you will find that God will use you and your faith will be stretched.

Spend some time on your spiritual life this month. Do the “Four Most Important Things.”

Friday, December 17, 2010

New Year's Resolution 2011

A few weeks ago my cousin died. Monica was the same age as me. We were never very close, but we were together at all family functions because she was the closest in age to me of all the cousins. Her death caught me by surprise. To begin with, she was much too young to die. Not only that, the cancer seemed to come out of nowhere and suddenly, at least to me. Although I rarely saw Monica in the past several years, I was deeply saddened by her passing.

The reason I rarely saw Monica was because I made that choice. I have become absorbed with my own life and busy-ness. I know that my hectic lifestyle is generally positive for everyone. I am involved in doing good things- God things- for and with people. But it seems that sometimes I am too busy.

So when I got to Monica's funeral, I was a little nervous. Its a big family. My father is one of six children and they all had multiple children. And I hadn't seen any of them in a long time. I was worried that someone would be upset with me because I had not been around for a long time. I thought, "Maybe they think that I think I am too good for them." I didn't need to worry. All of my family members were gracious, loving, understanding and genuinely glad to see me. That is why I have made this resolution:

During 2011 I will spend as much time with my family as possible.

Distance and schedule will place limits on this, but as far as I am able I will attend reunions, holidays, graduations, picnics, concerts, ballgames and school programs.

Family is too important to take for granted. I have a pretty good one and I'm going to take advantage of it.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Reading Plan 2011

Each year I try to set goals for my reading in the coming year. I am a committed reader, learner and book person. (Although I must admit that I have looked lustily at the Kindle.) My greatest joys in life are reading a good book while listening to good music. While all of that is true, it is also true that for the last two years my reading has been disappointing to me. I have failed for various reasons. That does not diminish my desire to make 2011 a good reading year. My goals for the coming year are somewhat less ambition than in past years, but they are goals nonetheless.
  • I will read The Message paraphrase of the Bible.
  • I have collected many books through the years at book sales, garage sales and the like. In 2011 I will read the books that I have not already read by some of my favorite popular authors, Garrison Keillor, John Grisham and Stephen King.
  • I will read at least six books on church leadership.
  • I will do some reading to support a series of sermons on the book of Psalms.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Bible Study 2011

I have begun my planning for Bible study and work for 2011. There are several components to my plan and I will write more about them in coming days, but here is the basic outline.
  • I will be continuing my devotional project of writing the Bible. During 2011 I will be be copying, from the New King James Version, several of the Psalms.
  • I will be reading The Message during 2011. I have committed myself to read the entire Bible each year until I die, or am physically or mentally unable to do so. For the past few years I have read a different version each year. During 2011 it will be Eugene Peterson's The Message.
  • I will be reading the Bible with special attention to Jesus' healings in the gospels. I will particularly be looking for how Jesus healed everyone and every disease.
  • I want to focus on the prayers that are recorded in the Bible.
  • A corollary to that will be giving special attention to how Jesus goes off by himself to pray, and sometimes does it all night long.
  • I want to look at songs and psalms in the Old Testament.
Additionally, there are a couple of phrases that I want to look at. "Be strong and have courage" appears throughout Deuteronomy and Joshua. This is speaking to me right now in a significant way. Secondly, I am interested in learning more about Jesus' question, "What do you want me to do for you?" (Mark 10.36, 51)

Monday, November 22, 2010

Merry Christmas, at Last

It is time for my annual Christmas message. Sometimes it seems that everything that can be said about Christmas has already been said. I feel like I have said all that I know about Christmas. Solomon said that there is nothing new under the sun, and yet every year we work to make Christmas new, fresh, and interesting. This year I refuse. I am not looking for anything new. There will be no original Christmas thoughts coming from my mouth. I will not lose sleep over how to phrase my holiday greetings. I am going to be simple, and traditional.

On Sundays I am going to focus on the message of the angels who appeared to the shepherds. (It’s hard to get more traditional than that.) There will be four messages, and they all come from what the shepherds heard a couple thousand years ago.

  • Good News. The basic message of Christmas is good news. The gospel of Jesus Christ, the truth that God became a man and dwelt among us, that is good news. That Jesus continues to live and fellowship among his followers, that he still seeks those who are lost and do not yet have a relationship with him is good news. It’s not a new message, but Christmas is all about Good News!
  • Great Joy. Suicide rates go up at the holidays. People are more depressed and lonely. Men and women (and young people) focus on what life is not and lose hope. But, Christmas for the believer is about great joy. We are not alone for God is with us. We do not need to live in depression because the King of kings has borne our griefs. When my burdens are lifted and when I live in the hope of Christ, that is Great Joy!
  • Peace on Earth. Jesus is called the Prince of Peace. To many for Christians to talk about peace seems to be a contradiction. After all, much of the violence in the history of the world has come from Christ’s followers. However, we live for peace. We can have peace. We follow peace. Jesus is the only way that we can truly know Peace on Earth!
  • Goodwill to Men. Not everyone is nice. I do not like everyone I meet. But I do know that there is no one who is inherently better or worse than me. We are all the same in God’s eyes. Jesus came to earth to level the playing field. We are to love one another, even as Christ has loved us. He offers us a chance at equality and understanding with and for one another.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Why I Worship at McDonald's

Some of you know that I spend a lot of time at McDonald's (or Wendy's or Burger King or the local coffee shop). I spend about one day each week at such places. I meet a lot of people at McDonald's- like the salesman whose mother-in-law died, or the woman from California who lost her children. My McDonald's time is not haphazard or indiscriminate, however. I have several reasons for doing such a thing (some much better than others). What follows are my Top Ten Reasons to worship God at McDonald's.

10. There are no interruptions. There is no phone to answer at McDonald's. No television. No drop-ins. For the most part, I get left alone.

9. There are free drink refills at McDonald's. I can sit there all day for just over a dollar, and never get thirsty. (I also get to use the restroom a lot.)

8. I get a great opportunity to be a witness. Sure, it's a silent witness, but dozens of people see me in a public place reading my Bible, journaling, praying. I have my devotional time, which I would have anyway, in a place where people can see that I take my faith seriously.

7. Greasy food. I love fast food. It's close. It's cheap.

6. There are a lot of opportunities for ministry. At Wendy's I have gotten to know some of the employees. I am able to show concern for their lives and interests. I also get many opportunities to share with my fellow customers at all my favorite places.

5. I get to build relationships with people that I would not get to know in any other way. At some of the places I go, they know me by name. At others, I know them. In many cases I am getting to know the regular customers as well.

4. There is a spacious work environment. When I go to McDonald's I take my briefcase. It has my Bible, my journal, other books and several work projects in it. One booth has plenty of room for me and all my stuff.

3. Going fast food serves as a cultural reminder. Most of the people that I spend time with on a daily basis are church people. They are people who attend my church, or a previous church, or pastors of a different church. Church people are a minority in the general population. It is good for me to get out and mingle with "real people" once in awhile.

2. There is just enough noise and distraction to keep me from getting bored.

And the number one reason why I worship God at McDonald's...

1. I love watching people. (The playground at McDonald's is one of my very favorite places to read the Bible.)

Monday, October 25, 2010

New Ethics

I was recently faced with an ethical dilemma. This one was unlike any I had heretofore encountered. Let me tell you the story.

I had to drive my daughter to an activity on a hot day. There is no air-conditioning in my car, so it was particularly unbearable. The sun was hot and breathing could cause you to break a sweat. I did what any normal person would do: I got something cold to drink. I went through the drive through window at McDonald's and got a large drink for a dollar. What a deal! The problem was that it went too fast. It took me 10 minutes to get my daughter to her appointment and then I was on my way back home. By the time I got back to McDonald's I was hot again and my drink was gone.

The problem is this: If I was inside McDonald's I would have re-filled my drink cup several times, for free. I would have still been in the restaurant after the 20 minutes that my trip took. So, would it be stealing if I took my cup into the same restaurant that I purchased it from and fill it up? Is it wrong to take advantage of the privileges that come with the purchase?

What about if it was a different McDonald's location? The money is the same. It is going to the same general place. Is that wrong?

And one related ethical quandary is this- When I fill my fountain pop cup at my local gas station and then take a drink before topping it off and putting the lid on, is that wrong? Is it a sin to steal a sip? Is it even sinning?

I am looking forward to your opinions.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

The Family Lists: Widows, Widowers and Singles

Church people are idiots! You do not have to agree with me, but I believe this with all my heart. There are too many ways in which we (and I include myself here) mess up over and over again. We are hypocritical, self-righteous, judgmental and “holier-than-thou.” It is no wonder that Christians have such a bad name in the world at large. After all, who wants to associate with people like us?

One of the ways that we offend and alienate the most people is in the area of our teachings on family issues. I believe that we are not intentional in excluding people, but we seem to forget those who are single or widowed. However, there is a lot that the Scripture has to teach about those who are not in a “traditional” family group.

First of all, let’s be clear that there is not a traditional, biblical model for families. The patriarchs were polygamists. The greatest king in Israel’s history, David, had multiple wives and mistresses and was a lousy father to his children. Jesus was never a part of a “traditional” family. The Apostle Paul was either divorced or never married. Our current pre-occupation with a husband, wife and children family unit is more cultural than spiritual.

With that being said, let’s consider biblical instructions for those who are unmarried.

  • Widows (and widowers) are to be a special ministry concern of the church (Acts 6.1). We must not forget to care for those whom God has entrusted to us.
  • Single people are to be faithful to God above all. In fact, in 1 Corinthians 7.32, Paul says that those who are unmarried are blessed and should remain that way. (Jesus praised those who were eunuchs for the Lord. Matthew 19.12)
  • Divorce is a last resort only. People who are married are to stay married. Divorce is a sin (Mark 10.11).
  • We are all a part of the same family of God. There is no Jew nor Greek (Galatians 3.28). No matter what kind of family I have on earth, I am part of God’s eternal family. He is my Father and those of you reading are my brothers and sisters.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Forever Friends?

I have a lot of acquaintances. On Facebook I have hundreds of friends. They are all people that I know to one degree or another. I enjoy getting updates on their lives and activities. They are people that I care about, and I like to think that they care about me. However, most of them are not what I would call friends.

I have a great family. My parents are still the greatest influence on my life. I want nothing more in this world than their approval. I love them and know that they love me. I have a good marriage. My wife is with me all the time. We consult one another about every decision and treasure the time we spend together. My daughter is in her own category. There is no one in this world that I love more than her. (I believe that it is also true that no one loves her more than I do.) But these family members are not what I would call friends.

  • Friends are people who are related to you only because of mutual respect, affection and concern.
  • A friend is someone who is genuinely glad as you succeed in life, and is concerned and offers support and assistance in a time of need.
  • Friends offer advice and support.
  • Friends are receptacles of garbage that we vent to them and on them.
  • Friends are faithful through years, even when neglected.
  • Friends do not take up a lot of time, but they have plenty of time to give when it is needed.
  • Friends are not afraid to confront you when you mess up, but they will also help pick up the pieces when you fall apart.
  • Friends never intentionally hurt, disappoint or annoy you. When they do any of those things, they are quick with an apology and appropriate acts of contrition and restitution.
  • Friends are good for laughing with, crying with, playing with and being serious with.
  • Friends help you through difficult times and keep you grounded in the good times.
  • Friends will offer help and assistance, but will not be afraid to complain when they are being taken for granted, or taken advantage of.
  • A friend will actively work for you improvement and do their best to keep you from any self-destructive behaviors or attitudes.
  • A friend will cheer you up when you are depressed and help you keep a level head when things are going well.
  • Friends love you with no expectations or stipulations.
  • Friends are committed to the friendship without regard to convenience or personal gain.
  • Friends are in it for the long term.
  • Friends never quit being friends.
  • Friends are filled with grace, understanding, patience and forgiveness toward one another.

Saturday, October 9, 2010


The great philosopher, Yogi Berra, once said, "It's like deja-vu all over again." But remember, he also said, "It ain't over until it's over." He could coin a phrase, but he was not the brightest bulb in the marquee.

I am an opponent of the concept of coincidence. I do not believe that it exists. I know that there is a long history and anecdotal stories about it, but I am not a believer. Coincidence, kismet, fate, deja-vu, they have all been invented by people to comfort us when things seem "weird."

Before you get too worked up, you should know that I am not a fatalist. I do not believe that things just are. Things do not just happen to me. I have some input in my reality. I am able to direct things. I can make decisions. I have free will. I reject the notions of predestination, election and reprobation. I do not believe that I am just a helpless pawn in the world.

But on the other hand, I do not accept the idea of happy accidents. When someone thinks that things have just worked out, I do not believe it. So what is it? What do I believe? (Get ready. I am going to get religious.)

I believe that God is in charge of everything that happens. There are no accidents or coincidences. God does things. Often those things seem coincidental, but they are not. God has done it. I can see this on an almost daily basis. Today was a perfect example. It is no accident that I was home this evening. God knows what he is doing.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Hand Washing or Wringing?

Lately I have noticed that public restrooms almost always have a notice that employees must wash their hands when they finish their "potty break." The notice is often pre-printed on some sort of sticker that adheres to the exit door. Sometimes it is handwritten and taped to the mirror above the sink. There are some notices that are in English and Spanish. There is a seemingly endless variety of these signs in restrooms all across the country.

But I wonder about those notices. How effective are they? How necessary are they? Does anyone pay attention to them at all?

To begin with, if your employees need to be reminded to wash their hands after using the toilet, maybe you should re-think your hiring and training practices. Get people who are clean, conscientious and tidy. Teach people to do the right thing from the very beginning.

But beyond that, if they don't wash their hands as a general rule, why should we think that a little sign in the bathroom will make a difference? When no one is watching, no one will know. I operate under the assumption that people will get away with all that they can. No notice, no matter how impressive, threatening or attractive will cause someone who does not want to wash, to wash.

A couple more thoughts that may not be for the squeamish:
  1. There are some places that the hand washing sign is completely superfluous. Employees in a race track stable, hog farm or landfill have bigger sanitary issues than just their hands. Likewise, those who work in a car wash may find that their hands are constantly being washed while on the job.
  2. It is completely possible for some men to use the restroom without ever touching any surface that would require hand washing. (Of course, this would mean that an automatic or foot flush is needed.) Why should I wash if I touched nothing in the restroom and nothing on my body?
I will admit that today I wash my hands more often than I ever have before. I have bought into the current paranoia about viruses and germs. But let's not get carried away. Recognize that the sign in the restroom is no protection from hepatitis.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Whose News?

Cable television news has changed the way that government and politics works in the US. There is always someone on live television broadcasting the latest "news." No longer are events planned for the daytime hours, Monday through Friday, so that they can be covered on the evening news broadcast. Now every time is news time because all events can be reported on live and in person via satellite.

This has wreaked havoc with the way that the traditional broadcast networks have covered news. There is nothing new to be reported. It was all covered by CNN, Fox, MSNBC or someone else. It has also provided a constant state of transition among those same cable news outlets. They are all trying to create their own niche. They pretend to be filled with integrity and idealism, but in reality they are simply angling for better ratings.

On my satellite television system I get about 10-12 all-news channels (this includes local and business channels). They all have their own specific target.
  • CNN- Tries to be objective in its coverage, but is vilified by right and left as being too partisan in favor of the other guys.
  • MSNBC- Unabashedly liberal in orientation and perspective. Courts the left wing with its programming, reporting and analyses.
  • Fox News- Proclaims itself to be centrist- or at least populist- but is clearly a right leaning outfit.
Each of those networks has a business or financial channel and other outlets. They are all a part of much larger media empires. Apparently, 24 hour news is a great, and profitable, business. The problem is that there is not that much news to cover. In fact, in the last few years more and more non-news stories have become major issues because of this. Every network wants to be first. They want to report the next big story. They are looking for the great ratings. So, we have learned about Casey Anthony, Jaycee Dugard and Octo-mom.

But that is not all. We have lost sight of what is news and what is not. It is now true that many people listen to Talk Radio, or an analysis program on television and assume that they are getting news reporting. In fact, what these programs provide is some one's opinion about what is news, or what we should think about the news.

This came home to me recently when I realized what had happened to the Headline News Network. Headline News is a part of CNN. The idea behind Headline News was that any time of day or night you could get caught up on all the news in 30 minutes. But those days are long past. Now you are more likely to catch an hour of personal financial advice, opinions about the latest tabloid-type scandal or Hollywood gossip.

That is when I realized that the world has changed. Headline News has changed its name. It is now HLN. That does not seem to be a big change, except that HLN markets itself as HLN, News and Views.

Here is my conclusion...

A big part of the divisive, partisan nature of politics in the USA today is because people hear some one's opinion, or analysis of current events, and take it for news. The left sends out its analysts. The right puts its analysts on the air. And before long, no one is listening to news. Everyone is paying attention to analysis. And when we form our opinions based on someone else's opinion, we are standing on a very wobbly foundation. Let's move beyond this partisan period into a time of listening to one another, paying attention to actual news and forming our own opinions.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

The Family Lists: The Family of God

…that we might receive the adoption as sons.
And because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into your hearts, crying out, “Abba, Father!” Galatians 4.5-6

Here is something to always remember. You are a child of God. He has adopted you and included you in his family. You are no longer a part of the world. You are in a new family with all the rights and privileges that this family enjoys.

  • We are children of the Creator of the universe. I love my Dad. He is the greatest man on earth. But, that is nothing compared to being a child of God. I am a son of God.
  • We are brothers and sisters of Christ himself. Our relationship with the Messiah can be greatly enhanced by understanding that in a very real way, we are connected to him as family.
  • We are brothers and sisters of one another. It seems like a quaint idea from a simpler time to call other church members Brother Smith or Sister Jones. But what a great reminder of our relationships.
  • I have a whole church full of family members. The people that I worship with are advocates for me. They love me. They defend and protect me. They take care of me and my family.

Being a part of that church family comes with responsibilities as well.

  • I must look out for others who are a part of the family. I must work to protect and defend them always.
  • I must help to correct and guide them, but always in a loving and godly way.
  • I must share with those who are a part of the family. That means that I will share material, advice, nurture and prayer.

One more thing: My “family of God” is not limited to the Christian people of my local congregation. I have brothers and sisters around the world. I know some from Africa, from Asia, from Europe. They are everywhere. It is a wonderful, great, huge family. You should appreciate this family and take advantage it. It was Bill Gaither who said, “I’m so glad I’m a part of the Family of God.”

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Even More on New

Recently I have posted a couple of entries on the issue of the "new." (, and Although I have had a lot to say about new and old, tradition and innovation, it seems that there is even more to say.

For example, what I have said previously, and what I am about to say, makes it appear that I am a traditionalist who is committed to the status quo. This is not the case. I like new things. I embrace innovation and creativity. I want to know how things work and how we can make them better. I love new stuff.


The current state of our world would have us look at the new in unhealthy ways. New is exalted as always better. The combination of marketing and technological innovation is extremely dangerous.

  • First of all, an emphasis on, and devotion to all things new will usually lead to sensationalism. We want to see the latest and greatest. To get a look at it we have to know about it. Thankfully (please hear the sarcastic tone of my voice), there are marketers to tell us that there new thing is best. Sensationalism is born.

  • Sensational leads to hyperbole. Over and over again we are subjected to claims that cannot be substantiated. "This will make you happy." "That will give you sex appeal." It is sometimes hard to separate a legitimate claim from some one's opinion.

  • If product X is using a celebrity to sell its product, product Y may need to up the ante by providing a testimonial from a real person. Product Z, which is essentially the same as X and Y, might be tempted to make things up. There is a progression here: New leads to sensationalism. Sensationalism leads to hyperbole. Hyperbole leads to lies.

That new version of Windows will not solve all your problems. Likewise, eating the food at Subway will not make you thin. Whether or not we embrace new things, we need to always be grounded in the truth. Be discerning, wise and skeptical.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Me and Jean

Its a holiday weekend and so I have devoted myself to a couple of my favorite things. I am reading and watching movies. I am having a little trouble on the reading front. It has been hard for me to find anything that really excites me this year. I have been reading Andrew Vachss, but the one I am in right now is hard for me to get into. But I digress.

I have also been watching movies. Last night I watched Les Miserables. The version I saw last night was the one from 1998 starring Liam Neeson and Geoffrey Rush. It is a fine production, but by no means the best one available. There is a version with Charles Laughton from 1935. There is one with Claude Rains (I think) that I really like too.

I first met the story of Les Miserables through the Broadway musical version. It is great music, a superb story and just innovative enough to keep it interesting. I have seen stage productions of Les Miserables several times (including one high school production that was surprisingly excellent). There are days that I spend in a blissful fog singing "Who Am I," or "Bring Him Home." The music makes me smile and takes to specific scenes, times, places, emotions. Ahhh...

The novel, written by Victor Hugo, is one of my favorites. There are no weaknesses. Reading this thing allows me to get lost in the pages. I love everything about it.

But the best thing about Les Miserables is Jean Valjean. He is probably my all-time favorite fictional character. Jean is a convict. The story opens with Jean working on a chain gang for 19 years. He has been sentenced hard labor for stealing bread. When paroled, however, he goes on the run. While evading the police Valjean encounters a priest who shows compassion, grace, forgiveness and love. Jean Valjean is transformed.

For the rest of his life Valjean has to hide from the authorities- he is a parole violator after all. But he shows grace and compassion for everyone he meets, including his greatest enemies. His concern and love for others is clearly the theme of the story.

This is not necessarily and Christian novel. The musical is not a religious production. Every filmed version I have seen does not focus on the obvious Christian themes. However, it is impossible to separate Les Miserables from the gospel. It is, in many ways, a parable of the the way the Christian life ought to be lived. Jean Valjean is not Jesus, nor is he intended to be. But those who read or view Les Miserables honestly will see Jesus in Valjean as surely as they will in Aslan. Do not miss Les Miserables, in whatever form you can find it.

Monday, August 23, 2010

The Family Lists: Marriage

Several years ago, as I was teaching United Methodist Pastors in Uganda, some of the pastors asked about family relationships, and especially marriage. I have always felt as though my marriage was the second most important commitment in my life (the first being my commitment to Christ). The questions caused me to begin to systematize my thinking about some specific marriage pointers. Through the ensuing years the list has changed, and I am sure that it will continue to evolve and develop, but here is what my marriage list looks like today. I call it the “steps to affair-proof your marriage.”

· Always follow God’s law. This is almost too obvious. If we do what God says, we will not have problems with fidelity.

· Always keep all of your promises. When a person gets married they promise things like, “keep only unto,” and “cleave only.” If you keep your promises, you will remain faithful.

· Never be alone with a person of the opposite sex in a tempting situation. Let there never be an opportunity for temptation to take root in your life. Avoid everything that has the potential for danger.

· Confess all temptation to your spouse. When you have a tempting encounter, do not let that temptation grow in secret. Share it. Be honest. The temptation will be less when you are not harboring it in private.

· Make yourself unavailable to the opposite sex. Make sure that everyone in your circle of acquaintance and influence is aware that you are completely off-limits. Announce to others and make it clear that you are happily married. Do it often. Remind others- and yourself- that you are not in the market for anyone else.

· Make rules for when you argue with your spouse. There should be limits to your anger and upset. Do not say things that you do not mean. Do not intentionally hurt your spouse. And then, when you have made the rules, be sure to live by them.

  • Always put your partner first. Be willing to compromise in conflict. Be the first to apologize in a time of hurt. Advance the needs and desires of your spouse above your own.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Me or Us?

There are two things that have been swirling in my brain. (Actually, there are a lot more than two things in there, but I am going to limit myself today.) First of all, in worship I have been preaching on the Seven Churches of Revelation (Revelation 1 and 2). In my study on this passage I have been reminded of the emphasis that is placed on the corporate-ness of these congregations. They are addressed as churches, not as individuals.

My tendency is to read the Scripture- and probably everything else, for that matter- in a very closed, selfish way. I want to get right to the personal application. "What's in it for me," so to speak. But these letters do not allow for that.

When Jesus stands at the door, it is not the door to my heart. He is wanting to enter the church.

When Jesus says that he will spit out the lukewarm, he is not talking about lukewarm Christians. He is fed up with lukewarm churches.

When he says, "I know your works," he is declaring that the activities of the congregation are known to him. In this passage he is not looking at every detail of every member.

That thought led me to my second thing. When I was a boy, I was given a bad interpretation of a very familiar Bible verse. John 3.16 says this: "For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life." When I was a child, in an evangelical Sunday school class a well-meaning teacher gave me the evangelical party-line. She said, "You can put your own name in there, you know. 'God so loves Dewey...'"

You see, evangelicals believe that every person is valuable to God. And that every person must come to faith in Christ of his own will and initiative. I agree with that, by the way. Every person must have a personal relationship with Jesus. I am an evangelical after all. The problem is that John 3.16 is not an individual salvation verse. It is a corporate salvation verse- just like Revelation 2-3.

So, there is a conflict in Christian circles between those who believe in individual salvation and those who hold to corporate salvation. Let me weigh in with my opinion on the subject: Yes.

Every person must come to faith in Christ. Romans 10.9 teaches that it is the responsibility of each individual to come to faith in Christ. I am thoroughly evangelical. Each person must confess and believe for him/herself.

But, Jesus came for all people. There are requirements, commands for the "church" of Christ. There is no getting around our responsibilities to the body of Christ, the church, and to Christ himself.

The right answer is not either/or, but yes/and.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

The Family Lists: Children

Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long… Exodus 20.12

Too often, it seems to me, we stop here at the Ten Commandments, when we are considering children in our family relationships. We want our children to obey, to respect, to honor, but perhaps not much more. We want them to “be seen and not heard.” We believe in “spare the rod and spoil the child.” Children should know their place. All of these things are true, but in the Bible (and in life) there is so much more for children to know, to do and to fulfill.

  • Samuel was a boy who ministered to the Lord (1 Samuel 3). In fact, he heard from God when no one else did. Eli, the priest did not hear God, but a boy did. Children today can hear the voice of God as well, if we will teach them to and allow it.
  • Jeremiah was called by God, even before he was conceived (Jeremiah 1.5). There are great things in store for people (children) even from the earliest ages. Do not diminish what your children are destined to accomplish for God’s glory.
  • Jesus welcomed children in his group (Matthew 19.14). Not only did Jesus teach them, include them and admonish the disciples for their treatment of children, he also touched them, held them and blessed them.
  • It was a young boy, who was almost arrested along with Jesus at the end of his life (Mark 14.51-52). We sometimes get over-protective of our children. They should be allowed to follow Jesus and take risks for the sake of the Kingdom of God.
  • Young people can have leadership roles in the church (1 Timothy 4.12). Be careful to not overlook those who are gifted and called for ministry just because they are younger than you expect them to be. God calls people regardless of their age.

Everything that has gone before applies to young people generally and not necessarily to children in the context of their families. However, all these things are true in families as well. I was fortunate as a child to have parents who listened to me and believed that I could accomplish great things for God. They nurtured me and my relationship with God. They listened to me and offered guidance and correction from time to time. Let me assure you that I was not excused from chores, family responsibilities, obedience or respect. I was well-rounded in all those ways. The rod was not spared in my childhood home. I knew when I was to be quiet and when I could speak out. But I never sensed that I was not respected and loved.

The same should be true for our children. We must love and nurture them. Teach them respect. And allow them to blossom in whatever ways God calls them. Who knows: The next Billy Graham may be living in your house or attending your church. Wouldn’t that be a great thing?

Friday, July 23, 2010

More Thoughts on "New"

I recently posted some concerns with all things new. Our culture is consumed with emphasizing new, young, beautiful, the latest, greatest, WOW, "now with added value bleach." If you do not believe this, think about the last time you saw a middle-aged, elderly, homely or overweight person in a reality television show, or as a contestant on a game show. You would think that everyone in America is young and beautiful.

Well, as is often the case, I am not done. I have some more concerns with what the world considers new. Isaiah 43.19 declares that God is doing a new thing. For that very reason we need to be sure that we do not eliminate everything new out of hand. We do not want to miss what God is doing. But at the same time, we must be careful to not over-emphasize new things at the expense of our traditions, values and history.
  • Focusing on new things causes us to lose sight of our traditions, our culture, the very things that make us who we are. When we are only looking for what is new, we will forget where we came from.
  • New things could cause us to repeat the mistakes of the past. When we forget what we have learned, we may well mess up again.
  • Being consumed with new things makes us produce new things more frequently and more quickly. This automatically diminishes the value we place on new things and the quality that the new things represent.
  • Finally (I think), the new promotes only surface interest in everything. When we have tradition, we live with music, art, literature and life over and over again. We can truly see the value and the depth of a thing when we spend time with it.
I am sure that there is more. I am not ready to eliminate the new, but I definitely refuse to throw away what has been tried, tested and established through the years.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Problems I Have with "New"

I have been thinking a lot about new things lately. I love new things. I look forward to the new television programs during the Fall Television season. I love to watch movies at the end of the year when all the really good movies come out. I like to get the newest album from my favorite artists. In fact, I love new music so much, that I prefer new music and new artists to established ones sometimes.

However, there are some problems with my love of new. This was brought into focus during a recent conversation with a group of pastors. Our discussion centered around Psalm 96.1, "Oh, sing to the Lord a new song." We extolled the virtues of
  • Creativity- God is doing something when a new song is born.
  • Variety- There should be no limit to the types of expression of worship.
  • Work- It takes effort to learn or do "new." God is worthy of that.
However, all that "new" is not necessarily better. In fact, there are some definite problems with emphasizing the new.
  • To begin with, valuing new simply because it is new leaves us with the distinct implication that the old is necessarily inferior. This is not true.
  • If we are so concerned to find God's new thing, we may get the idea that he never did an old thing, or that there wasn't a new thing before. This might leave us with a sense of spiritual superiority.
  • Focusing on the new will almost always diminish the value of the old.
  • Emphasizing the new will often lead to instability. Consistency is sacrificed when we move quickly to the latest, newest thing.
  • Making too many changes, too quickly, will certainly offend and alienate those who are emotionally invested in the old ways. The status quo is not necessarily bad.
Finally, new is good. Change is good. But we must be careful that we are not looking for new just for the sake of new. We must never change just for the sake of change. Balance in everything is essential.

Friday, July 16, 2010

More on Social Justice

Recently I wrote about the church abdicating responsibility for caring for the poor and oppressed. A natural response to that is that the government has picked up the slack. I received one email written from the position that the government has taken the responsibility from the church. My perspective is quite the opposite. For the most part, I think it is the chicken and the egg. I believe that the church failed, forcing the government to care for people. Others believe that the government usurped the church's responsibility and therefore its ability to help people.

Ultimately, I think we agree. The church should be doing what the government is doing.

Let me cite one example of the church doing its job regardless of the activity of the government: The Amish. The Amish are taxed in the same way as everyone else. I am sure they are beneficiaries of many government programs as well (examples could include unemployment compensation, but I am not certain of this). I do know, however, that the Amish do not participate in government sponsored insurance programs. The church itself cares for members who are ill, have lost a home or are in some other need. The church can and should care for people regardless of what the government is doing. (An interesting side note: The average Christian gives about 3% of his income to the church. If Christians would tithe, we could care for those who need and cut our taxes.)

One more thing: I had a disagreement with my mother-in-law recently. She was upset about the proposed health care reform bill (this was before it passed). She said, "Everyone I know has insurance. I don't see what the big deal is." When I began to tell her the names of the people I know who are uninsured (about a dozen, many that she also knows) she was amazed. I think it is easy to think about those in poverty as having an entitlement mentality, but when you spend time with them you can see the world through different eyes.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Fair and Balanced?

When I was in college my major course of study was Biblical Literature. In one of the first classes I took we learned that we were supposed to approach the Bible objectively. It is unfair, inappropriate and unsafe to bring my own ideas to the Scriptures. In addition, we must never use the Bible to bolster or support what we already believe. The idea behind studying the Bible is to find out what it says, not getting it to say what I want.

Then I got to seminary. One of my professors in seminary taught us that it is impossible to be completely impartial in reading the Bible. I can never pretend that I am not who I am. I will always have my thoughts, beliefs and ideas. Rather than pretend that I do not, I should be honest about the impact that those things have on my reading of the Bible.

That reminds me of the media wars that we are seeing today. Most of the media is pretending to be objective, even though they are not. They all have certain agendas, perspectives and biases. Even those commentators who complain about media bias are biased media commentators.

Today there are a lot of 24 hour news channels on cable television. My satellite system has at least eight stations that are devoted to non-stop news, business and opinion. Everyone of them is a little bit different from the others. Some of them cater to women, some to men. One has a particularly liberal perspective, another is conservative.

The problem I have is that some of these networks have a particular political agenda, but act as though they do not. One promotes itself as "fair and balanced." Fair and balanced implies that all sides of an issue or event are explored impartially and without bias. This is certainly not the case for this network.

They are certainly allowed to present issues in whatever context they desire. I have no problem with their rights to broadcast in this manner. However, if you pretend like you are objective, you should be objective- at least as objective as you can be.

One more thing: This same network makes the boast, "We report, you decide." How untrue. They report, that much is accurate. But, they report only what they want to report. They provide perspectives and analyses only from experts that they choose. The world view of this network is focused just so that I will decide what they want me to. The reporting of this channel is designed to make me decide in a particular political way.

You can believe what you want. You can even spread the propaganda that you want. Just be sure that you do not try to convince the American people that everyone else is biased and you are not. Tell the truth.

Monday, June 28, 2010

The Family Lists: Parents

Fathers, do not provoke your children. Ephesians 6.4

We parents, and I assume that most of you reading this are parents, tend to think of the Bible as a pro-parent book. We like to emphasize the passages about honoring parents, respecting elders and obeying those in authority. All of those concepts are important in the Bible, but that is not the whole story. The Bible also talks (a lot) about the responsibilities and concerns that parents are to show to their children.

My prejudice is that parenting is the most important job that most of us will ever do. In fact, I have always rejected the idea that I ever “baby sit” my own children. I never baby sit. I parent. The Bible provides a lot of help for parents, if we want to listen to God’s word, and if we want to be serious about our parenting.

Biblical suggestions for parents:
  • Parents are not to provoke their children (Ep. 6.4). Sometimes we do it in anger, sometimes because we are not thinking, but it is never appropriate to purposely agitate or aggravate your children. Parents are to be positive and uplifting for their kids.
  • Parents are to teach and train their children (Ep. 6.4). Do not fall into the trap of believing that you send your children to school for education. You are your child’s primary teacher in all things.
  • Parents should care for the needs of their children (2 Corinthians 12.14). Do not forget your responsibility to feed and clothe your children, as well as provide for their health, their well-being, their future and more. Being a parent never ends.
  • Parents love their children without condition. Remember that Mary, Jesus’ mother followed him around everywhere. At times it had to be uncomfortable, embarrassing, or even dangerous. But even when he was executed as a criminal Mary stood by loving him. We need to love our children even when they make bad choices and disappoint us, just like Mary.
  • Parents must be responsible for the Christian nurture, education and discipleship of their children (Deuteronomy 6.7). We must never buy the lie that children should choose for themselves. We must teach our children to follow God by word and example. We must accompany them to worship. We must encourage them to participate in church youth groups and Sunday school classes.

This list could go on indefinitely. We will stop here, however, with an admonition to commit yourself and your children to the Lord. It does not matter how old or young they are, your children need to have a strong relationship with you and with Jesus. Pray for them daily. Share your love regularly. Never forget your most important task.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Social Justice

Recently, some media personalities have called on Americans to reject the idea of social justice in their local churches. To begin with, I have some problems with these media personalities. I do not want to take them to task for their peculiar political perspective- at least not now. I want to begin this article by calling them out on their complaints about the "media." Their assertions include claims of a "liberal" media bias and unfair reporting. But please keep in mind that the most popular and wealthy media personalities, and the highest rated cable news network are all right-wing conservation outfits. So much for the liberals who control the media.

As far as social justice is concerned, I want to address one issue in particular. The claim has been that churches who are concerned with social justice should be abandoned by all clear-thinking American patriots. I want to look at this as a Christian, a churchman, and a clear-thinking American patriot.

To begin with, the church is all about social justice. The call of Jesus is exactly to care for widows, orphans, the poor, sick, imprisoned. We are to look after the misused and the disadvantaged. (Matthew 25.40) The only reason, I believe, that the USA has become the entitlement society that it has is that the church has failed in its obligations. Someone has to care for the needs of the oppressed. Since the church has not, the government must. (Luke 4.18-19)

Additionally, Christians are to "work out" their salvation. (Philippians 2.12) I believe that this means we are to not keep our faith to ourselves. We are to express it in how we treat and relate to others. Not only that, but we are to show our faith by how we share it with others. (James 2)

Where does this leave us? Clearly, Christians are to be concerned about the needs of the oppressed in our society and around the world. Consequently, our churches must be speaking out and acting on behalf of the needy in our communities and in our nation. It is the responsibility of all Christians, all clear-thinking American patriots, t0 look after the concerns of social justice. And do it no matter what those guys on the radio say.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Went to a Garden Party

Ricky Nelson, that iconic philosopher of 1950's era teeny-boppers, made a profound observation in his 1972 hit song Garden Party. He said, "Ya can't please everybody, so ya got to please yourself." How is that for summing up life?

Nelson wrote that song in response to fans who expected him to continue singing "Hello Mary Lou" and his other hits from the 1950's. He moved on, however. He stretched. He wanted to grow. His answer to those who wanted him to always be Ricky Nelson, Ozzie and Harriet's boy, was that he was his own person.

In a recent post I discussed the importance of various relationships. This is a very similar topic to me. Who do you plan to please? Who do you need to please? Ricky Nelson was all about pleasing himself. The current crop of pop music stars are all about pleasing everyone else (so that they can sell records). But which is right.

  • Pleasing myself. If I focus only on pleasing myself, I will miss many of the greatest blessings in life. I will become ingrown and not get the joy of relationships with others that can be extremely beneficial and fruitful. For as I seek to please only myself, I will alienate others who are much less concerned with my pleasure.
  • Pleasing others. When my biggest concern is what others think and how I can make them happy, I may shortcut my own ability to be happy. If I do not know myself, or what I am supposed to be doing, how can I be truly fulfilled?
  • Pleasing God. Here is the million dollar answer. When I spend my time and energy pleasing God, I will be personally fulfilled because God's plan for my life is to please him. I will be in good standing with others, because God will give me favor with others. I will be concerned with their wants, needs, desires and expectations.

The bottom line is that when I please God, I will win all the way around. In Matthew 6.33 Jesus says that if we seek God's ways first, everything else that we need will be taken care of. I'm for that.

Monday, June 14, 2010

What Opinion Matters

There are three categories of people whose opinion makes a difference in our lives. Each group takes a part in making a person who he/she is. Whether we know it or not, or whether we like it or not, the opinion of another person does contribute to who we are and how we feel about ourselves. The trick is to not let any of these inputs get out of balance.
  • A person's opinion of herself is important. Every human needs to have a realistic view of who she is. That means that we must all know what our strengths and weaknesses are. It was Socrates who said, "The unexamined life is not worth living." I could not agree more. We must know who we are, what we are good at, and what we cannot do. When we have a good grasp of who we really are, when we have an honest opinion of our abilities and limitations, then we can be a more complete person.
  • The opinions of other people is important. Whether we like to admit it or not, every person cares what others think about him. It is not always healthy, but it is definitely unhealthy to not care at all about the opinions of others. Take into account the person whose opinion you are considering. Does he have a good track record? Do you generally value his opinion on other matters? Is it his desire to build up or tear down?
  • God's opinion matters to a person. Unfortunately, God's opinion is often not taken into account in a person's self-analysis. We buy into pop-philosophies like "I'm OK, you're OK," and think that's all there is to it. Shame on us. We should consider what God wants for us and from us first.

There is at least one thing to remember though: You must have a balance between all of the inputs. It will leave a person insecure and flaky if he is only concerned about what someone else thinks. Likewise, you will find yourself egotistical and lonely if you think too much of yourself. Begin by listening to God, then mix in the other factors and you will be set. You will be on your way to becoming a well-balanced person.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Right Relationships and Responsibilities

I have been thinking a lot about what are the most important things in life. I have been trying to evaluate my own life, priorities and beliefs. It has occurred to me that even though I have cultivated many good and relatively close friendships, and even though I have a multitude of acquaintances who I am friendly with, and even though I love my family immensely and enjoy intimate conversation and sharing with all of them, I have some deficiencies in my relationships.

I need someone with whom I can share my inner thoughts and struggles without fear of judgment or reprisal. My wife- and other family members- is disqualified from this position because she is living through the same struggles as me. I think that I need to be intentional about developing and maintaining mutually supportive and sustaining relationships in the following categories.
  • A relationship with God. For me this one goes without saying. The very foundation of my life and priority system is based on the values that I receive from my spiritual life. The first thing I do each day needs to be to spend time with God.
  • A relationship with my family/spouse. These are not the same, but somewhat similar. I need an intimate and strong support system. Family can provide specific checks and accountability that no one else can. Likewise, my family nourishes my emotional life like no one else.
  • A relationship with friends. This is the most tricky. These friendships run the gamut of experience. I need friends to socialize with, friends to share my heart with and friends to challenge me professionally, spiritually and intellectually.
  • A "pressure-valve" relationship. The one thing that is missing in my life is a relationship with someone that I can 'blow-off' to. I need someone who will not think less of me if I struggle or stumble. I need someone that I can complain to who will not judge me or be offended at me. I need someone that will listen with an open heart, and whom will not worry me.
This is a very personal list, but get this: Everyone needs these relationships. I do not believe that any of them are optional. Look around. Start your search for these people in your life. Let me know how you do. You can be sure that I will report to you.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Getting Control

Here is a paradox: Americans strive their whole lives to be in control of their lives. We are trained from an early age that the American dream is to be independent, wealthy and successful. We want to control our own destiny and make our own decisions. However, the Christian faith teaches us that we can only be successful (and faithful) if God is in control of our lives. What a conundrum.

I have been working with a person who has never been in control of anything. She is scared to be in control because for her first years her parents were in charge. Later she was in a relationship where her mate was in charge. She has learned to let things happen to her. What a travesty.

We should all be in charge of our own decisions. We should be assertive and not wait for things to happen to us. I must confess that I have not arrived at this point. But here are some suggestions for people of all ages and backgrounds.
  • Don't put things off. Take advantage of every opportunity to resolve conflicts and disputes. When you wait for someone else to resolve things, they are in charge of them.
  • Regularly evaluate your life, your values and your purpose. Make sure that you are spending your time doing the things that will give you control. Don't waste your time on "trifles."
  • Be aggressive, but graceful. Take advantage of your position in life, but not to the disadvantage of others. Your goal should be to control your life, not someone else's.
The second part of that paradox is just as troubling. God needs to be in control of our lives. We must voluntarily include him in all our decisions and preferences. We need to take his desires into account and do them.

Eventually, as you grow in faith, you will learn that what God wants will become almost indistinguishable from what you want. That is when you know that God is in control.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Problems I Have with the Bible

I know that it probably seems like heresy to some, but I do have some problems with the Bible. Now before you get too worked up with me, let me explain that I believe in the divine inspiration of the Bible. I believe that it is the word of God. Whenever I need to know God's will, be reminded of his way, or be refreshed by his words, I turn to the Bible. I own dozens of copies of the Bible. There are very few people I know who love the Bible more than I do.

That is why I have mixed emotions about what I am about to write. I love God and I love his word. I do not want to seem disrespectful, but there are some issues that I want to raise with the Almighty at the first opportunity. I have some questions that maybe only God can answer.
  • The Prodigal Son (Luke 15). The story of the Lost Son is pretty straightforward and familiar to everyone. But I wonder about the older brother. He gets all the reward? His father insists that all he has belongs to the older brother. On the one hand this is only fair, but on the other, the father is to serve as a picture of God. Is this the loving Father that we are to believe in and hope for? When we turn from our sins can we anticipate forgiveness but no reward?
  • The Wedding Feast (John 2). This was Jesus' first miracle- commonly referred to as turning water into wine. The servants in the story obeyed Jesus' directions to fill the jars with water. Why? No one had ever seen Jesus do a miracle, surely they did not expect one now. Why would they? Whose wedding was this? Why was Jesus so interested?
  • Abraham and Isaac (Genesis 22). God called Abraham to sacrifice his son, Isaac. We know how the story turns out. We know that God provides a sacrifice in place of Isaac, but what a state of discomfort we go through on the way to the end of the story. Why does God do that? It seems like some sort of sick game that God is playing.
  • Wrathful War. There are numerous instances in the Old Testament in which God orders his people to kill everyone of their enemies, including women and children. The Israelites, in fact, are punished when they do not completely kill everyone. Why would God order this? Isn't there a better way?

Monday, May 10, 2010

A Difficult Thing

I am just muddling through life. I mess up on a regular basis. If I were to keep track of my mistakes, I am sure that I would need counseling. I am not as good as people think I am and I get lost, confused and unhinged regularly.

There are some days that I do nothing right. I hurt people's feelings with my words. I offend others with my actions. There is a whole group of people who I neglect all together. Meanwhile I am in near financial ruin because of poor choices. My family is struggling because of my deficient leadership. I feel hopeless and directionless.

The bottom line: I don't know what I'm doing.

Life is a crap shoot. You give it your best shot and you hope it works. But sometimes it doesn't. My life isn't always bad, or difficult, or confusing, or pointless, but when it is it stinks. That's when I am reminded that no matter how hard I work at it, I don't get it.

So I pray. I pray because I don't know what I'm doing and God might. He might have an idea where I have gone wrong and what I can do to improve things. He might be able to help show me what I need to do, where I need to go.

Ultimately, no matter what, God cannot make my mess any worse than it already is. Even if he doesn't care and can't do anything, praying to him can't hurt.

But, I don't believe that. I think that God is interested. I believe that he is powerful, caring and involved. I think that he knows my situation and can fix me and my problems. Not only that, I believe with all my heart that God knows what he is doing. I'm going to give him my problems. He will know what to do with them.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

The Family Lists: Parents with Parents

These are interesting days that we live in. The average lifespan of every American is longer now than it ever has been before. We have more advanced healthcare than at any time in our history. When originally conceived, Social Security was designed to take care of American men and women for the last few months and years of their lives. The system has stopped working because people are living longer. There is not enough money to support people for five, ten, twenty or more years.

That leads us to our issue of the hour. In past generations, children understood that their parents were going to work until their deaths, or very near it. Now it seems that children, adult children, may be responsible for their parents in some way for a couple of decades or more. This raises a host of practical, ethical and spiritual issues. What follows is my attempt to offer some direction for Christians who are dealing with these issues, or someday will be. Hopefully, there will be value in the following list for parents, and their parents.

  • Remember that you must always to love your parents (Colossians 3.20). When making decisions for or with your parents remember that they are people of value. God loves them. So should you. Your convenience is not the most important issue at stake.
  • Jesus was concerned with caring for his mother. Even at his death, Jesus was thoughtful enough to make provision for his mother’s care and protection (John 19.27).
  • Consider the feelings and wishes of your parents. Their priorities and desires may not be the same as yours. Take into account their feelings.
  • Always think about what is best for everyone. There may come a time when you will need to take away a driver’s license, a favorite power tool or kitchen utensil. Do so with love, grace, empathy and understanding.
  • Spend as much time with your parents as possible. As they get older they will have fewer and fewer friends. They will be less mobile and social. You and your family should pick up the slack. Your parents are people of value and a gift from God. Treat them as such. Make sure that they know you believe they are special.
  • When dealing with end of life concerns, be thoughtful, prayerful and considerate. No one wants to think about death, advance directives or even funeral planning. Be patient, but persistent. Be loving, but firm.
  • Remember that God is always in charge. His plans are greater than yours. His ideas are bigger than you are.

Remember where you came from. They are people who have loved you. At the end of their lives they should know that they are loved in return.

Monday, April 12, 2010

In Prayer I

For the next several weeks I am going to use this space to offer some model prayers. These prayers can be used to help you start your prayer time, to guide you through your prayer time, or to be the content of your prayer time. May they inspire and encourage you to always grow in faith and prayer.

In Thanksgiving
Lord, You are good.
Your love lasts forever.
Your grace knows no end.
You continue to care for me, encourage me, provide for me.
Thank you.
Thank you for your provision.
I am grateful for...
a job,
and security.
Thank you for my relationships.
I am grateful for...
my spouse,
my children,
my parents,
my family,
those who encourage me and those who challenge me.
Thank you for my faith.
I am grateful for...
Christian fellowship.
Thank you for the hope I have. I know that I am not alone. You are always with me. You have promised me good things in the future. Stay with me.
In the name of Jesus I pray.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

The Threefold Jesus

So, I've been thinking. A lot. Sure, my thoughts are not always serious, or worth dwelling upon. But they are thoughts nonetheless, and since they are mine, I think them important. They started with a conversation with a friend. I was talking about something that Jesus said in the gospels when my friend asked, "How do you really know that Jesus said that?"

I was taken aback. I have heard those questions before. I was aware that people had doubts about the veracity of the gospel stories. In fact, I have studied the objections and debated the issues. But I was shocked that someone I count as a friend could be so bold. So, how do I know?

I worked on it for awhile. I read some apologetics texts. I studied some papers I had written in seminary. I meditated. I built theoretical arguments. I argued them. I rebutted them. I tried other arguments.

I believe I can make a case for the existence of Jesus. I think that we can safely know a lot about what Jesus said and did. But all of that boils down to faith. I believe. That makes all of this a lot easier for me. I trust in the Bible. I have faith in the church. I know what I have experienced in my own heart and life. I am sure that God has revealed the truth about Jesus.

That led me to my second problem. What is the most important thing: Jesus? His works? His words? This was- and is- not as easy for me to answer.
  • Jesus' words are crucial to Christians. We get our pattern for life from what Jesus taught. We know that we are supposed to live in a certain way, because Jesus told us to live that way. Much of our ethic, at least where it affects public life and civil discourse, comes from the words of Jesus. The social justice Christians- of which I am one- are significantly influenced by the words of Jesus.
  • Jesus' actions are crucial to Christians. We learn how to interact with others, how to teach, how to show compassion and how to stand for truth by studying how Jesus does it. We also learn to expect miracles, healings and strong stands for the oppressed by watching what Jesus does. The evangelical and charismatic Christians- of which I am one- are significantly influenced by the actions of Jesus.
  • Jesus' life is crucial to Christians. There are several things to cover here. Jesus, according to orthodox Christianity, is the incarnation of God himself. That is, the life of Jesus is important because he was God in the flesh. Secondly, Jesus was completely human. Although he was divine, he was still a man. He knows all about my weaknesses and struggles because he had them too. Finally, Jesus' life ended, but it did not stay ended. He is alive today to verify for all Christians the truth of our faith. Christians- of which I am one- are significantly influenced by the life of Jesus.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Staying on Track

Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others. Philippians 2.4

It is now two days after Easter. Most of you know that I believe Easter to be the greatest day of the year. Without Easter we would not celebrate any other holy days or holidays. In fact, were it not for Easter, there would not be a Christian faith. So each spring I focus my attention and energy to Easter. Lent has become important to me as a preparation for the best day of the year. But this year things have been different in my head and in my heart.

My head has been pre-occupied and busy with all sorts of activity and involvement. The minutiae of life has taken over it seems. I have- necessarily, I believe- neglected some of the things that I would normally be paying attention to. I have not been the person that I should be because my mind has not been where it should be. One perfect example of this inattentiveness is the tardiness of this article. It was due over two weeks ago. And yet, here I am writing it now. I am sorry that this is late. I am sorry that it has held up the whole newsletter. I am sure that you have no idea how truly sorry I am.

My heart has been emotionally fragmented and stunted. I have had less patience for people, their concerns and how I can help them than I should have. My commitments are waning. I know what I should be doing, but it is becoming increasingly difficult to overcome a nagging sense of apathy. My relationships are suffering as a result.

The confessional nature of this writing is semi-intentional. It is not my purpose to ease my conscience or provide a sense of emotional absolution for my own shortcomings, although it is doing that very thing. I am writing this particular article because I believe that I am not the only one with these problems. I have a hunch that many people reading this are struggling with apathy, complacency and indifference. Lack of commitment often creeps in and takes hold of our hearts without warning. We are stuck with it before we even know it.

There are some answers, though.

  • Begin with prayer. You may not feel like it. You may not want to do it. But pray.
  • Renew your commitments. Be reminded of all that you have promised your family, your God, your church and your community.
  • Find an accountability partner or team. There are people all around you who can use a little help in this process, just like you. Keep track of each other and your progress in these things. Push one another along.
  • Do a regular self-check. Keep track of your progress and give yourself a grade every few weeks. On the first of every month, for example, evaluate your priorities and intentions. Make sure that you are staying on course with what you have promised and what God wants for you.
  • Finally, let God help you in this process. It was Paul who encouraged his young disciple, Timothy, with these words, “…stir up the gift of God which is in you…” (1 Timothy 1.6). God wants you to be revived, to remember, to return.

I know that I need to get things straightened out in my life. I am not sure where you are, but let me encourage you to remember what you are called to do. Don’t be lazy. Do what God has called you to do.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

The Need for Greed

The capitalistic system that rules in the USA has blessed millions with financial resources that most of the world cannot imagine. I have not traveled a lot, but when I am in countries of the third world I try to always visit a grocery store. What a wake up call. My local Wal-Mart has more merchandise in the cookies and bread area than the entire supermarket in Black River, Jamaica. My friends in Uganda work for a week for what I can spend on a moderate lunch at my local Applebee's Restaurant. We are truly in a good position financially.

The main problem with capitalism is its greatest strength. When it is working properly. It works great. Wealth is almost limitless for those who work hard and make good decisions. In fact, that is exactly why the US is the wealthiest nation in the history of the world.

But, as we think about the recession that seems to be just ending in America, we can see that there are some real problems- weaknesses- in capitalism. It is these problems that created the economic crisis that nearly ruined the whole world.

First of all, capitalism leads to greed. Getting paid, getting ahead, even getting rich are not inherently bad. However, having money can very easily cause a person to want more money. Having more money and wanting more money can become the most important things in life for people. Adding these issues together equals greed. Greed is always bad. Those who are greedy consider only their own needs, wishes and desires. The concerns of others become absolutely unimportant.

Secondly, greed leads to complacency. As long as what I want is taken care of, I don't care what happens to others. I can sit by and watch as things happen to those around me. Since it doesn't happen to me, it doesn't affect me. I can be completely apathetic to needs around me. Additionally, I lose sight of the importance of ethics and integrity in my own life. I will get what I want at all costs.

Complacent apathy can only lead to laziness. We become so unconcerned about things happening around us that we don't notice anything. When we don't notice we don't care. When we don't care we forget how to care. When we don't care we might as well not get out of bed in the morning. We lose sight of all motivation. Because I don't care, I become disinterested and unmotivated toward everything except my own specific needs and activities.

Finally, laziness- the consequence of greed- cannot help but beget the decline and ultimate fall of a society. As our leaders- financial, political and otherwise- get lax in their oversight of systems, and as we get lax in our oversight of our leaders, everything begins to fall apart. Our culture cannot- and will not- continue to exist as long as we are greedy, lazy and complacent.