Thursday, February 25, 2010

Problems I Have with the Church

People who know me will not be surprised that the church is a problem for me. I love the church with all my heart. After all, the church is the Bride of Christ, God's instrument to bring about the salvation of the world. I love being in church. I love worship. I love church people, church traditions and church language. But I have some problems with the church.

What follows are some reflections about what the church is and what it should be. Take them as you will. Add to them or argue with them. But do it in the spirit of Christian love.
  • The church needs to find new ways to expand its outreach. The old methods do not work to reach new people.
  • Expansion needs to be about reaching out to people, not asking people to come to us. There is too much competition for us to assume that people are going to continue to come to us. We need to learn to go to them.
  • The church needs to be about building people, not buildings, programs or celebrities. Our focus must be on others, not ourselves.
  • We need to move the church away from an emphasis on programs and attendance increases to building relationships.
  • The church needs to use its buildings and resources more effectively and efficiently. For many days each week our huge buildings, offices, classrooms and recreation areas are empty. This ought to be a sin.
  • The church ought to be about reconciling people to God and one another, rather than continuing to alienate the culture around us. For many people Christians are evil. This must change.
I know there are more things to work on. What would you add to the list?

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

The Family Lists: Siblings

The relationships between brothers and sisters are tricky for most humans. We are connected by blood, by proximity, by parents, and often by little else. We know we are to love and respect each other. We feel a responsibility to defend and protect, but we often view siblings as adversaries, competitors in a familial Olympics of sorts. But we are put in families with brothers. We have sisters. Shouldn’t we relate to them in positive ways?

To further complicate these issues, we have an image of the church as a family. That means that for most of us, we think of our fellow church goers as brothers and sisters in Christ. (This was intimidating for me as a young boy. There were people in our church who were called Brother Grim and Sister Thrillkill.) So, how should we relate to one another? Can we get along?

  • Those who do the will of God are brothers and sisters of Christ (Matthew 12.50). If we are united in doing what God calls us to do, we are family- in the best possible way.
  • We are responsible for the well-being- physical, emotional and spiritual- of our brothers and sister. When God asked Cain about his brother, Abel, he did not have a good answer. His response was to pretend not to know Abel’s whereabouts (Genesis 4.9). Obviously, God’s will is that we take care of one another.
  • We are to love our brothers and sisters. The Great Commandment in the Scripture is that we are to love our neighbors (also known as the “Golden Rule”). Certainly family members and church members qualify as our neighbors. Love everyone (Matthew 19.19).
  • Put the interests and well-being of your siblings ahead of your own (Philippians 2.3). We can celebrate the victories of those we love and support.

Many of us have been blessed by God with brothers and sisters. All of us have the benefit of a church family. How great life will be when all these relationships are in line with God’s plan for our lives. Join me in being the best brother (or sister) that you can be whether familial or spiritual.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Talk About It, Talk About It, Talk About It

Once in awhile, it doesn't happen very often, I turn my radio to the AM dial and listen for Rush, Sean, Glenn, Michael and the like. I do this to give my brain a rest. Sometimes when I have been thinking too much, when I am exhausted from intellectual activity, I need someone to do my thinking for me. AM talk radio is great for that.

Think of the recent accomplishments of these icons of pseudo-intellectuality:
  • Blocking health care reform
  • Blocking immigration reform
  • Wrecking congressional town hall meetings all across America
  • Calling for the President's birth certificate
  • Beginning the "patriotic" tea bag movement
  • Giving us Sarah Palin and other giants of experience and intellect
You see, when I get exhausted from thinking, I want the assurance that someone who is bright, well-balanced, articulate and informed can help me. I am glad to know that these people are not influenced my ratings, advertising or corporations. It is calming to know that they are all independent thinkers. It is refreshing to know that Rush's content is completely different from Sean's and Glenn's... They all have their own agendas.

I like the fact that they are equally critical of both parties in American politics. I love when they spend half their time complaining about Democrats and the other half complaining about Republicans. It is talk like that that reminds me of my other favorite "fair and balanced" news source.

Thank goodness the AM dial is free from that NPR drivel that makes me think for myself. I am glad that I don't have to deal with in-depth reporting or interviews. I love it that someone else can make up my mind for me.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Weekly Prayer Thought

But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly. Matthew 6.6 (KJV)

When I was a teen-ager I remember game nights with my youth group. There were 10-15 of us who would meet at some one's house with our favorite board games. We played cards and games late into the night. We ate pizza, popcorn and pop. We flirted. We prayed. We had a great time.

My favorite game was double-bid euchre. I'm not sure that I can remember how to play it today, but it was great then. We also played Monopoly, Life and Clue. It seemed that every time we had one of these gatherings someone would arrive with a new "religious" game. One time it was a Bible trivia challenge. Another time it was the "Ungame." It was not competitive and there were no winners or losers. It was not very popular in our group.

One time someone showed up with the "Prayer Closet Game." I don't remember much about the game, except that it was pretty fun as Christian games go. There were dice, markers and a game board. There were challenges and competitions. The one thing I remember clearly about the game, however, was the thing that offended me. There was a penalty area on the game board. It was roughly equivalent to Jail in Monopoly. When you drew the wrong card, or landed on the wrong space, or rolled the wrong number on the dice, or answered a question wrong, or something, you had to go to the Prayer Closet.

How wrong is that? When you fail your punishment is that you have to pray. I was upset by that premise then, I am more upset by it now. It is hard enough for Christians to spend time praying. We should never equate prayer with punishment, or as a penalty for doing something wrong. Prayer is a reward. It is a privilege to spend time with God. We should feel honored to go into our prayer closets with the Creator of the world, the Lord of the universe.

One final thing; there are times when prayer may be especially hard. It could be that there is sin in your life that you do not want to admit or face. In such cases we may dread the encounter with God that is necessary. But we should always remember that when we come to God, he will forgive and restore us. Prayer is never a punishment. It is a blessing. It always has been.

PRAYER: Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner. Remind me that prayer is an awesome and intimate experience with you. Help me to always see it as a positive experience. Be very present with me when I pray. Stay with me always. Amen.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Scary Movies... Not

I am tired of being asked to watch "scary" movies that are not really scary. If you have ever thought seriously about the horror genre, you probably already know what I mean. There is a whole movie type, the teen slasher film, that is not in the least bit scary. It is almost funny to think about what passes as horror.

Consider the following elements to the formula that is thought to be scary or suspenseful these days.
  • Attractive teenage girls in underwear, pajamas, nightgowns, lingerie or swim suits.
  • A psychopathic killer in a mask that everyone thinks is dead, in a mental institution or jail.
  • A scene in which the killer is chasing the teenage girl. She is running and screaming. He is walking slowly with a limp. He catches her anyway.
  • There are always several scenes in which a door is opened to reveal something terrible. It could be a dead body, the killer or something innocent. But the intention is to make you jump and scream.
  • The music is always in the background and barely noticeable until the moment just before the murderer strikes, or the aforementioned door is opened.
There is another sub-genre that is making headway in the teenage horror movie market. The super-natural thriller is just as predictable, and no more scary. These films deal with ghosts, re-incarnation, spirits and the like. They always include some character with a lower jaw that is distended in an Edvard Munch-type scream pose. These films are generally not scary either.

Here are my rules.
  1. If it is predictable it cannot be scary.
  2. If it uses more computer-generated special effects than Star Wars, it cannot be scary.
  3. If it requires the monsters to open their mouths too wide, it cannot be scary.
  4. If I am only scared because of a particular startling scene or revelation, it cannot be scary.
  5. If the marketing campaign is focused on 17 year old boys, it cannot be scary.
I may be a movie snob, but I know what is not scary.

If you are looking for something truly scary, try:
  • Hard Candy
  • The Silence of the Lambs
  • Platoon
  • Dead of Winter
  • Psycho

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Ash Wednesday IV

If you go by the calendar today is nothing significant. February 17 is just a few days after Valentine's Day, two days after President's Day (this year) and a month ahead of St Patrick's Day. We are right in the middle of the Greeting Card time of the year. It is cold outside. There will be snow on the ground for several more weeks and I need a break.

A trip to somewhere warm would be good, but that is not going to happen anytime soon. Thankfully summer is on the way, but until then there is Lent.

Today is important because it is Ash Wednesday.

Personally, today marks the anniversary of this blog. For three years I have been writing, reflecting and ranting here. There are over 500 entries- most of them important only to me. This blog has been helpful, meaningful and a grounding place for me.

But more importantly, and universally, today is Ash Wednesday. This is the day that Christians all around the world receive the sign of the cross in ashes to symbolize our repentance and identification with the sacrifice of Christ.

Ash Wednesday is the first day of Lent. Lent lasts for 40 days leading up to Easter. We observe Lent for 40 days because Jesus fasted for 40 days when he was tempted in the wilderness. During these 40 days we sacrifice, or fast, something to draw closer to Christ. Many people will give up chocolate or coffee or soft drinks. Some people will give up a certain meal during the week. Others give up television, or the internet, or something like that. Many Catholics famously fast meat on Fridays. (This is why we always had fish in our school lunches on Friday.) Whatever you choose to sacrifice, remember that the purpose is to remind you of the sacrifice of Jesus and help you get closer to him.

If you check the calendar, there are more than 40 days in the season of Lent. That is because Sundays are not included. Every Sunday is supposed to be a reminder of the resurrection of Christ at Easter. Sundays during Lent are "little Easters." You might choose to not fast on Sundays.

Many people choose to spend more time in prayer, Scripture study or worship during Lent. I encourage that. Join a group of others who are focusing more of their attentions, hearts and lives on being a part of the Jesus movement. Pray every day during this season. Read the Bible regularly. It will change your life.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

I Don't Wanna be Right

The other day I met a person that I almost instantly disliked. He was arrogant, self-confident and self-assured. But the worst thing about him was that he was right. O, he was not right in the conventional sense. It was not a matter of having the right ideas, beliefs or opinions. His rightness was not even based on the conservative nature of his political opinions. He was right because he "knew" he was right.

This is a great problem in America today. There are way too many people who have traded truth and justice for being right. In fact, there are millions of people who are so right that they do not even need to consider the opinions or thoughts of others. They can not possibly improve their position by listening to anyone else. (I hope that you can hear the sarcasm in my writing.)

These people who are right- you know some of them (maybe you)- are characterized by a few common traits.
  • Because they are right, they cannot imagine an alternative. They can easily become offended or agitated at the suggestion that there might be other options. There is no need for discussion, negotiation or compromise. I am right, after all. And anyone who does not agree with me is necessarily wrong and has nothing of value to add to the conversation.
  • Because they are right, they can feel superior to others. And why not? If I am right I am superior. Why should I even pay attention to anyone else?
  • Because they are right, they become offended and/ or angry with anyone who disagrees. Just like a child on the playground who had the ball first, if I am right you should not even try to convince me, or anyone else, otherwise.
Let me tell you a secret: I am not right very often. I mess up all the time. I spout off and have to eat my words. I pray regularly that God would show me his ways and lead me away from my own interests. It is amazing how often my thoughts and God's are in opposition to one another.

Celebrate the truth when you are right. But be careful because tomorrow you might wake up to find that you are an obnoxious, opinionated, self-righteous dope. Don't let this ugly thing happen to you.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Weekly Prayer Thought

"Father, the hour has come. Glorify Your Son, that Your Son also may glorify You." John 17.1

With these words Jesus began what we have come to call the "High Priestly Prayer." Although this particular prayer is not as famous as the oft-repeated "Lord's Prayer," there is still much to commend it to us.

  • We should read this prayer to learn the prayer priorities of Jesus. When we know what was important to him, we can make sure that our prayers are in line with his. We can pray for the things that Jesus prayed for, and prays for.
  • We should read this prayer so that we can pray like Jesus did. Remember that in the Lord's Prayer Jesus was telling the disciples how they should pray. Here we have recorded a prayer of Jesus himself. If you want to pray with the same power, intensity and grace that Jesus had, pray this.
  • We should read this prayer to realize the focus of Jesus. Remember that within moments of saying this prayer Jesus was arrested and put on trial. The next day he was executed. The thing he did with his last free hours was to pray for you and I. That is focus.
  • We should read this prayer so that we can learn balance in our relationships. Jesus prayed first of all, that his relationship with his Father would be good. Then he prayed for his disciples and his relationship with them. Finally, he prayed for all that would follow. That's you and I. We do not live in a vacuum. We are in relationship with others. Jesus taught us that in this prayer.
  • We should read and pray this prayer to maintain a ministry focus. Jesus did not pray only that people would be safe, happy and healthy. His focus was on building the Kingdom of God. Our prayers are too often ridiculously anemic by comparison. Don't just pray that Aunt Tillie will arrive safely. Pray that she will change the world for the sake of Christ when she gets there.
Spend some time reading Jesus' prayer here. Let it get into your mind and into your heart. Let it change your world and make you more like Jesus.

PRAYER: O God, make me like you and your Son, Jesus Christ. Give me a heart for the world. Help me to pray like you prayed. Give me your priorities. May I be focused on your work, always. Be glorified in my life. Amen.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Texting in Restaurants

Awhile back I had this great idea. It would be perfect if I could text my order to the kitchen in restaurants. In this way I could save money on the tip because I would not need a server. I would save time because I would not be waiting on another table to order. I could cut out all the confusion and difficulty that comes with inconsistent service.

This idea, I thought- and still think, had great potential. How great would it be if I could order while waiting for a table and have my food ready when I was seated? How great would it be if I could text the hostess in advance of my arrival so I could be seated more quickly? The advantages and applications are virtually limitless.

And then I saw my idea on television. CNN did a report on a bar that had a special iphone app for ordering and keeping track of your drink tab. The report ended there, but I am sure that there is much more to the system. I cannot wait until this particular idea is more widely implemented and available at my favorite places.

I do not own an iphone and I'm not planning on getting one, but the door is open. Soon I will be able to use my cell phone to have the world- or at least my dinner- come to me.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Hamburger Nuggets

I have no hard evidence to support this idea, but it seems to me that the chicken nugget is the preferred kid's meal entree in all of the finer fast food outlets. Call them nuggets, mc nuggets, strips, tenders of fries, it appears that children like chicken.

This, I believe, is an attack on the American way. We are beef people. We eat steak, roast beef, meat loaf and hamburgers. This is the country where you can get a product called Hamburger Helper. In fact, I challenge any reader to buy a box of said product without singing the jingle. "Hamburger Helper helps your hamburger helper make a great meal."

This is why we must do everything that we can to stop this insidious Al-Qaeda plot. Here are a few suggestions for our "Save American Values" plan.
  1. Never again order chicken products in a fast food place. (Exceptions can be made if you are at KFC, Chick-Fil-A, Chicken Coop, Lee's or Famous Recipe.)
  2. Speak to children about the dangers of undercooked chicken, salmonella poisoning and inhumane treatment of chickens on factory farms.
  3. Encourage the development of a hamburger nugget.
The hamburger nugget is the most important part of the plan. The chicken nugget has become so popular for several reasons. First of all, there is the perception that chicken is healthier than beef. This may be true except that I am skeptical of the grease that the chicken is fried in. Secondly, the nugget is made exactly for the fingers of children. Thirdly, the marriage of the nugget to the dipping sauce is a stroke of genius. Children get to eat, get to be active and work on an art project simultaneously.

Here is what we need. Someone needs to develop a practical hamburger nugget. The nugget could have a light breading on it and be deep-fried. There would necessarily be a variety of dips available for burger nuggets. Ketchup and mustard are no-brainers, but there could also be relish, barbecue, horseradish and mayonnaise.

When we get children addicted to burgers, we will be assured of saving our nation.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Weekly Prayer Thought

"Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour in which the Son of Man is coming." Matthew 25.13

  • Be Prepared.
  • Don't get distracted from what is truly important.
  • Beware of peer pressure.
  • Spend time with God.
  • Look forward to the next time that you get to spend with God.
  • You are responsible for your own relationship with God.
All of these are valid lessons that can be learned from the parable of the Wise and Foolish Virgins. The story is roughly this: There are ten virgins who were awaiting the bridegroom. Half of the virgins were cautious about their supply of fuel for their lamps. As it turned out, the bridegroom arrived at night time and half of the virgins were unable to participate in the wedding because they had no fuel.

Parables, in Jesus' use, are stories that illustrate truths. This one, as most of the parables, are filled with many lessons. But for now, let's focus on just two.

First of all, pray all the time. You never know when you will need to be in prayer. A crisis may arise and you will need to be praying. Always be ready for whatever is needed from you in terms of prayer. Do not get distracted. Press on and pray! Half of the virgins in this story were sorely disappointed because they did not pray when they should have.

Secondly, remember that you are responsible for your own relationship with God. You cannot blame your lifeless prayers on your mother, your Sunday School teacher or your pastor. You have to purchase your own oil for your lamp. If you do not have enough oil to see, it is your own fault.

These are hard lessons, but they are completely true. Do your own work in the prayer closet.

PRAYER: Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner. I do not always pray as I should. I am not always prepared for your presence in my life. Help me in this area. Open my heart. Fill me with commitment to spend time with you. Build in me a love for those things that are important to you. In Jesus' name I pray. Amen.