Friday, October 31, 2014

Jesus and Halloween

Well, today is Halloween, and even as I write this I'm waiting for all the junior witches, soldiers, and ninja turtles to show up at my front door for their annual candy bribes.

And as usual, the debate among Christians ensues:  Should we or should we not participate.


Or put another way, WJGOC (Would Jesus Give Out Candy?)

I don't know.  But here's what I think.

Jesus loved people, and that is beyond dispute. And some people consider children people, so I'm betting He loves children too.

Jesus created everything, and that includes fun.  Jesus created fun.

Jesus created humor.  Jesus created laughter.

Jesus created sugar, and that includes candy.

The Apostle Paul wrote that God provides us with everything to enjoy (1 Timothy 6:17).

So if He could make life more enjoyable for children by laughing with them and giving them candy, I'm betting He would.  I bet He would get a big kick out of some of the costumes.

I bet He would probably enjoy some aspects of Halloween, in spite of some of the less honorable ways that some people choose to celebrate it.

I can picture Him remarking about the cuter children, and yes, I can imagine Him taking a moment to provide a glimpse of the future that can be theirs through faith in Him.

And I can totally picture Him sneaking a Snickers now and then.

For a more entertaining and informational video on All Hallow's Eve, check out this video.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Amazing Grace

"Amazing grace! how sweet the sound,
that saved a wretch like me!
I once was lost, but now am found,
was blind, but now I see."
John Newton, c. 1790

Who but a former slave ship captain could pen such words, words that endure and still live with us nearly 250 years after they were first writ? (sorry, had to use the verbiage of the era there).

Christian or non-Christian, it would be hard to find many people even today that don't know at least the first verse of this classic hymn.  It is perhaps the most well known and most beloved hymn of all time.  And thanks to Chris Tomlin's recording and rewrite, a whole new generation of believers now loves it.

But do we truly understand the concept of grace?  I confess, I don't.  At times I think I do.  At my best (or worst) I look at my life and wonder how a holy God could love someone like me.  I wonder how an all-knowing God who knows ALL I've ever done and thought would even give me the time of day, let alone send His Son to die be executed so that I might have a relationship with Him forever.  But at my worst (truly my worst) I sanctimoniously see myself as somehow deserving of this grace, or at least more deserving than this person is or that person is.  I see the faces of those with whom I disagree on any number of issues on TV and I feel the anger well up inside.

Grace. Amazing grace.

Charis: God's Scandalous Grace for Us by Preston Sprinkle (David C. Cook, 2014) thus far has been an amazing journey through Scripture, showing the vital thread of grace weaved throughout.  I find few books hard to put down, but with this one I find myself continually either reading it or considering it in light of my life or the life I witness around me.  (You know you're in for a "scandalous" adventure in grace when the first page begins with the story of Jeffery Dahmer!)

Yesterday I posted this quote of Sprinkle's on my Facebook page.  It hit me square between the eyes the moment I read it.
"Our word grace has been overused and abused. It has lost its luster, its richness, its … charis. Perhaps through overuse, grace has become another nice term dumped into our worn-out bag of Christian lingo. We say grace before meals, include grace in gospel presentations, and slap the word grace on the names of churches. But if we never hug a harlot, befriend a beggar, or forgive our enemy seventy times seven, then we confess grace with our lips but mock it with our lives. First Church of Grace or Grace Fellowship or Grace Community— or whatever— should be an otherworldly safe haven where enemies are loved and porn stars are forgiven. That’s charis."
NOTE: Charis is the English transliteration of the Greek word χάρις, which we translate as "grace."

Though no man or woman is 100% without something likeable, can any of us really say the harlot, beggar, enemy, or porn star has something "loveable" that makes them eligible to be called a son or daughter of God?  And yet some become so, as God's grace showers down on them, opening their eyes to faith, and radically destroying their old selves that they may become new creations.

Grace.  Amazing grace. It's by grace that we've saved through faith. God's Grace. Grace that is greater than all our sin.

Grace. Amazing grace!

"When we've been there, 10000 years
bright shining as the sun;
We've no less days to sing God's praise,
than when we've first begun!"

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Prophets and Potatoes

"You say tomato, I say tomatah
You eat potato and I eat potatah
Tomato, tomatah, potato, potatah
Let's call the whole thing off."
~ George Gershwin

If you read last week's musings, you saw that I rambled for so long that it needed to be a two-parter.  Part One focused on whether a religion, any religion, should be defined by it's core written teachings, or if it should be defined by the majority's actions and/or disobedience.  I hope I made my case that it is the holy writings of a faith that should define and characterize it, as only the writings remain unchanged over time and stand alone as an objective standard applicable to each adherent.

This week, I attempt to examine what in my mind is obvious, but that I continually hear misstated and misunderstood, frankly by those same religious "majority" people who don't actually practice the religion they claim.

Do the Qur'an and teach the same things (subtitled is Allah and God two names for the same deity)?

This thought has become very commonplace today, yet is so starkly untrue that it sickens me to even type the sentence.

Though I obviously cannot do an exhaustive comparison in this small space, let me choose just two examples with the hope that the evidence of two differences is sufficient to prove that the teachings of the two books is not the same.

Point 1- both are violent books that teach violence.  This is both true and untrue.  The bible is a book written in different genres.  Some "books" are actually letters that were written by the early apostles to churches or individuals who were alive in the first century.  Books like Psalms, Proverbs, and Job are examples of ancient Hebrew poetry, and even a quick glance shows the reader that they look and read very differently.  The bible includes prophecy and history, which is what is most applicable here.

To record and relate historical acts of violence is not to teach them, and even in those instances where people were commanded to commit violence, the commands were not meant to be universal and timeless. In other words, when God told the Israelites to go to war, He meant that group of Israelites were to fight a specific group of people.  These commands do not hold for us today.

Compare this to the Qur'an, whose commands for violence are universal and timeless.  Just as unbelievers were to be executed in Mohammed's day, even today they should die.  Remember last week's post, that just because (perhaps) the majority of Muslims would not do this, does not mean that it is not a tenet of their faith.  It just means that (thankfully) they are disobedient to this teaching.

Psst- for a great summary of the violence inherent in the Qur'an, see this video.

Furthermore to the fact that the bible's commands for violence are historical is the fact that Jesus came to save the world, and as Paul makes abundantly clear, He came to save the whole world, not just one ethnic group.  Even when arrested, while Jesus could have violently overthrown the authorities, instead He surrendered to them, even scolding His disciples for resisting through violence.  Instead He allowed Himself to be crucified for crimes and sins He did not commit.

Compare this to Mohammed, whose cause of death is still disputed, with some claiming he was murdered by a Jewish woman and others saying he died of illness at the age of 62, a very old age for the time.

Don't get me wrong.  The bible does warn of coming violent judgment.  But the warning consists of violence at the hand of God Himself, and not by Christian believers.  This is in stark contrast to Islam that commands the violent spread of its message.

But what about all those laws that command stoning and such?  Don't those command violence?

Yes they do, but praise be to God that Jesus came to fulfill the law!  He came, lived a perfectly righteous life, and died as the ultimate sacrifice to God so that by faith we could be seen as righteous before God.  Righteous so that we no longer deserved death by stoning or by any other judicial means.  Jesus died to render the law powerless, thus rendering such commands obsolete.

Compare this to Islam that teaches "abrogation."  For those unfamiliar with this word (like I was!), in this context it means that those more recent violent verses in the Qur'an overrule more peaceful verses that may have come earlier.

So let's see.  The bible- violent history that includes some violent commands that are no longer relevant in Christ, or the Qur'an- peaceful past now overruled by Mohammed's more recent writings.

These books, and thus the gods they embrace, are not the same!

I implore you to follow the God of all peace and His Son Jesus Christ, who died taking the penalty for your sin.  Put aside the foolishness of those who for political reasons or political correctness want to delude you.  Embrace the truth of the true God of the ages!

As Paul wrote, 
"Avoid the irreverent babble and contradictions of what is falsely called “knowledge,”  for by professing it some have swerved from the faith.
Grace be with you"  ( Timothy 6:20-21)

Thursday, October 9, 2014

The Word or the World

"But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,"
Jesus Christ, as written in Matthew 5:44 ESV

"And kill them wherever you find them, and turn them out from where they have turned you out. And Al-Fitnah [disbelief] is worse than killing...but if they desist, then lo! Allah is forgiving and merciful.   And fight them until there is no more Fitnah [disbelief and worshipping of others along with Allah] and worship is for Allah alone.  But if they cease, let there be no transgression except against Az-Zalimun (the polytheists, and wrong-doers, etc.) 

They say if you live long enough you'll see everything.  Suddenly I worry that I've now lived long enough.

What was this final thing to see?  On September 11 of this year, Bill Maher, noted atheist and comedian sat down for an interview with CBS' Charlie Rose.  During the interview Maher takes a defensive stance toward Christianity, rather than likening it to other faiths and toeing the liberal line of "Islam is a religion of peace" hogwash.  In his comments, which are bitterly fought against by Rose, Maher cites the Qur'an and other sources to show that Islamic orthodoxy, unlike Christian orthodoxy, not only accepts but commands violence in the name of Allah.

This past week, on Maher's HBO show, actor Ben Affleck turned red and called Maher and his guest (author Sam Harris) racists for citing those facts that are so inconvenient in a politically correct culture of acceptance.

Underlying all of this is are two main false ideas: One, that the truth of any religion is found in how the majority of its adherents practice that religion, and two, that the bible and the Qur'an teach similar things.

Today's blog post will focus on point one.  I'll tackle point two next week.

Those who claim Islam is a peaceful religion point at those Muslims who do not wage jihad.  Their thinking basically goes that if a billion self-identified followers of Islam just live their lives like you and me, than their religion must be a peaceful one.  Those who make this argument conveniently leave out Quranic and Hadithic verses like the one above, and generally (with no study) dismiss them as meaning something other than what they clearly say.  This same argument is made for Christianity.  As most who proclaim themselves as Christian do not know the bible or its teachings, do not understand them, and do not live by them, then those who attempt to live biblically centered lives must be fanatics and outliers.  

Just one problem, at least when it comes to Christianity.  This is not how Jesus sees it.

"And he said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily
and follow me."
Jesus, Luke 9:23 ESV

These are words of radical commitment, not allegory.

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven."
Jesus, Matthew 7:21 ESV

These are not words of easy self-identification, and I would imagine the "rules" of Islam are similar, in that the religion is either based on the written words of the founder or the disobedience to those words of those who claim to follow it.

Might it be that the truest followers of a religion, any religion, are those who follow its teachings?  That seems so obvious, yet we continually try to define religious orthodoxy democratically.

That would work but for one small problem.

Majority doesn't rule; Christ rules!

Thursday, October 2, 2014

I Think He's Trying to Tell Us Something

To all those in Rome who are loved by God and called to be saints: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
(Romans 1:7 ESV)

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
(1 Corinthians 1:3 ESV)

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
(2 Corinthians 1:2 ESV)

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ,
(Galatians 1:3 ESV)

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
(Ephesians 1:2 ESV)

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
(Philippians 1:2 ESV)

To the saints and faithful brothers in Christ at Colossae: Grace to you and peace from God our Father.
(Colossians 1:2 ESV)

Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy, To the church of the Thessalonians in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ: Grace to you and peace.
(1 Thessalonians 1:1 ESV)

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
(2 Thessalonians 1:2 ESV)

To Timothy, my true child in the faith: Grace, mercy, and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord.
(1 Timothy 1:2 ESV)

To Timothy, my beloved child: Grace, mercy, and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord.
(2 Timothy 1:2 ESV)

To Titus, my true child in a common faith: Grace and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Savior.
(Titus 1:4 ESV)

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
(Philemon 1:3 ESV)

I think Paul's trying to tell us something.

That is, of course, unless we believe that it's just a coincidence that every one of his New Testament letters begins with a wish for grace and peace to be supplied to the recipients.  And by "coincidence," I mean that the Holy Spirit just happened, with no planning or forethought, to inspire him to write this greeting to all his recipients.

Ummmm, yeah.  Ummm, OK.

All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness,
(2 Timothy 3:16 ESV)

I find it interesting that of all the things Paul could put up front, he chooses grace and peace (except in his letters to poor Timothy, who I guess needed an extra helping of mercy too!).

Think about it.  Though he does get into these topics in the bodies of his letters, he could wish his readers get saved, be sanctified, think rightly, pray, or any number of things.

Heck, as much as Paul is about the gospel, you'd think that would be up front.

But no, it's grace and peace.  But it's not just the "grace and peace" thing that gets repeated.  It's the source of grace and peace.

God.  Always and only God.

How often do we hope for grace from our friends (or enemies)?  How frequently do we look for peace in a bottle?  How many among us waste their lives "looking for love in all the wrong places" as the old country lyricist wrote?

God.  Always and only God.

May God our Father and Christ Jesus our Lord bring you grace and peace today.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Parting Would Be Such Sweet Sorrow

When I was seven years old, my dad went into town to sign me up for Little League baseball.  I was so excited! I can still remember waiting for what seemed like hours for him to return and tell me all about when practice would start, what position I'd play, and what team I'd play for.  Maybe it would even be my then favorite team the Cubs (hey I was seven- you can't blame me for my foolishness!)

I heard his car pull into the driveway.  With bated breath I waited for him to come in.  Then, like a blow to the stomach, my life came crashing down.

We had missed the deadline for baseball signups, so instead he signed me up for football.

Oh the humanity!  My dearest daddy, whom I believed loved me with all his heart, was now sacrificing his beloved to giant men who would beat me to a pulp!  Didn't he realize that I was too small for such a violent game??

But with trepidation I went to my first practice...and I was immediately hooked.  And so began my lifelong love affair with the pigskin.

So it is with a sad heart, that I report that I am firmly on the fence, ready at a moment's notice to break up with my long time love.  And the line that the sport finally crossed was its tacit support of domestic violence.

As I am writing this, there are five NFL players in the middle of legal fights over this issue.  Most famously Ray Rice of the Baltimore Ravens was recently suspended by the league for an indefinite period after video surfaced first of him dragging his unconscious fiance out of an elevator, then of the actual punch that knocked her out.  Though now suspended indefinitely, Rice first was only suspended two games by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell.

Between the two videos came news that Greg Hardy, a defensive end for the Carolina Panthers was convicted of choking his then-girlfriend, throwing her around, dragging her by her hair and threatening to kill her.  He is appealing his conviction, and is currently taking a voluntary leave from football (with pay) to focus on his legal troubles.

And Ray McDonald of the San Francisco 49ers was accused and arrested in August of this year and is now facing felony domestic violence charges for allegedly beating his pregnant girlfriend.  He continues to play while his case goes through the legal system.

Last week, Adrian Peterson of the Minnesota Vikings was indicted in his home state of Texas on charges of reckless or negligent injury to a child for beating his four year old son with a tree branch.  He was suspended for a game by the team, later reinstated, and later put on leave (with pay) after new allegations of abuse of a another child (born to another woman) surfaced.

And if that's not enough, just yesterday Arizona Cardinals' Running Back Jonathon Dwyer was arrested for assaulting his wife and throwing a shoe at their 18-month-old son.  The incidents actually took place in July, at which time Dwyer also threw his wife's cellphone out of a window to keep her from calling 911.  The Cardinals have deactivated him.

And this list is only the NFL.  I could go on for pages on college players who not only skirt along the edge of the law, but go kicking down the door.

I do not, for one, believe that these actions are the exceptions that some want them to be.  And I do not lay them all at the feet of Roger Goodell, despite how fashionable it is to do so.

I blame the teams.  The coaches, the general managers, the owners, even their teammates.

See, the culture of the NFL has become one in which even major infractions in college and high school are glossed over and ignored, with the "glosser-overers" blaming such "indiscretions" on youth.

(Pardon me, but at what age do young men learn it is wrong to commit robberies, violence, and drug offenses??)

Every year around the time of the NFL draft, fans hear draft experts wonder whether this player or not will drop due to some criminal issue, and increasingly the top players don't fall at all.  So a fresh group of criminals comes into the league each year, replenishing the supply so that the off-field mayhem may continue.

You see, winning is way more important than character.  And that is why the penalties the league has implemented will not fix the problem.  Just as with Edwards Demmings famous red-bead experiment, what is needed is not a way to deal with individual problems as they arise, but the NFL needs a way to keep the problems from occurring to begin with.  In short, the individual teams in the league need to decide that character does indeed count, accept that frequently past actions do predict future ones, and make the bold decision to stop drafting those players whose pasts reveal serious character issues.

So I do not blame Roger Goodell for not levying sufficient punishments, as these won't change anyone's behaviors.  I blame league executives that willingly make thugs millionaires, with only a vague hope that money, power and prestige will make a 22 year old a good citizen (good luck with that).

So I am on the fence.  Oh how I hope the game I love will be truly cleaned up before I have to give it up altogether.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

The New Abnormal II

"That's all I can stands, cuz I can't stands no more!" ~ Popeye

"I'm into freedom of speech and freedom of choice. I'm the kind of guy who likes to sit in a greasy spoon and wonder - "Gee, should I have the T-bone steak or the jumbo rack of barbecued ribs with the side order of gravy fries?" I want high cholesterol. I wanna eat bacon and butter and BUCKETS of cheese, okay? I want to smoke a Cuban cigar the size of Cincinnati in the non-smoking section. I want to run through the streets naked with green Jell-O all over my body reading Playboy magazine. Why? Because I suddenly might feel the need to, okay, pal?" ~ Edgar Friendly, Demolition Man

I feel for ya Popeye.  For too long I've just been slightly irritated by what I hoped was a fad, but now sadly see as a growing trend in our culture.  And with you Mr. Sailorman, I can't stands no more either!

That trend is the ever-increasing glorification of personal rights at the expense of any sense of wisdom, responsibility, or propriety.

Pick a topic: Ferguson, gun-control, date rape, domestic abuse: all have at least an element or an example of someone exerting a self-perceived right while not exhibiting any wisdom, personal responsibility, or propriety.  Some, some could argue, lack all three.

Ferguson.  You know the story by now.  A unarmed black teenager is shot dead by a white cop after being asked to move to the sidewalk from the street.  And I'll stop with those facts, because they are the only facts universally known for sure.  Was the cop racist?  Did he execute an innocent man simply because of his color?  Some think so, but no one (at least no one publicly) knows for sure.  But almost never mentioned is the fact that had the teenager simply obeyed the officer as a public authority figure, there likely would have been no incident.  Rather than move to the sidewalk as requested, Mr. Brown chose instead to assert his right to walk wherever he wanted, and whatever happened next came as either a direct or indirect result of this assertion.

Gun-control.  This past Monday morning, a nine year old girl accidentally shot a firearms instructor with an Uzi.  Yes, an Uzi.  I fully support our right to "keep and bear arms" according to the U.S. Constitution, but the girl's father decided that his child's right to bear this type of arm overrode any sense of responsibility or wisdom that might say that a gun like that, that apparently recoils so that a nine year old might not be able to control it, should not be fired by a child.  On a side note, I find it interesting that someone has to be certain size or age to ride a roller-coaster but can handle a weapon that can fire 600 rounds per minute!

Date rape/Domestic abuse.  I put these two together, because the argument is pretty much the same for both.  Any warning or advice given to the woman to protect herself is seen as some sort of violation of her rights.  The right to dress or act in a way that might invite danger is paramount, while any suggestion to exercise restraint and wisdom is ignored.  To be clear, in no way will I EVER blame the victim in one of these cases.  But what responsible husband or father would ever endorse his loved one's choice to put themselves in unnecessary danger.

And just like last week, the list could go on and on.

Josh Gordon, a wide receiver for the Cleveland Brown was suspended this week for the entire 2014 football season for testing positive (a second time) for marijuana. After apologizing to his teammates, coaches, and fans, he immediately blamed the NFL, saying,  "I am very disappointed that the NFL and its hearing office didn't exercise better discretion and judgment in my case."

This wasn't even an example of rights, as you can't argue that Mr. Gordon had a right to be high.  This is a great example instead of a lack of responsibility: it's someone else's fault when I make a mistake, thus I should not be required to suffer any consequences.

When did this change in our culture happen?  Once, when I was in high school, I popped off to a teacher.  When my dad found out, he made me go apologize.  We did not blame the teacher, nor did we defend my right to my opinion or my right to express myself.  I was wrong, I took responsibility, and it became a small step in making me a responsible citizen.  Oops, there's that word again: responsible.

Responsibility is a fourteen letter word. It is not a four letter word.

Without it, we are all Edgar Friendlys.  We want the ability to do whatever we want, wherever we want, with no thought to the effects on ourselves or others. 

And this is exactly how a civilized society crumbles.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

The New Abnormal

"For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths." ~ 2 Timothy 4:3-4 ESV

I don't know what happened in Ferguson.  I wasn't there.

I didn't see the gunshots that killed Michael Brown, nor did I see any of the events that led up to his death.  I don't know anyone involved.  I have never even driven through the town.

Still, I think I know a few things.

Lots of people, not only around the nation but around the world, are shouting for justice.  Few, I fear, really want justice.  Most, I'm convinced, want their felt needs met.

Justice would methodically examine all of the available evidence and apply the law in a "blind" fashion.  

If the police officer shot Michael Brown in cold blood, as many allege, the evidence, once fully examined, would lead to his indictment, prosecution, and conviction in a court of law.  Those on the right who want justice would be just as satisfied as those on the left.

If the officer defended himself against a larger, violent man, as some are now claiming they witnessed, the officer would be exonerated.  Michael Brown's death would be seen as a tragic ending to a tragic life; a death that could have been avoided.  And those on the left who say they want justice would be satisfied that the policeman rightfully defended himself against attack, and acted lawfully and morally.

Sadly, no matter the outcome, some will remain angry, for no amount of facts, logic, and investigation will quell the desire for vengeance.

I'm afraid that we now live in the new abnormal- a time when facts mean nothing in favor of perception, or even desire.

No matter what the facts turn out to be in the Michael Brown case, some will cling to their preconceived perceptions.  Those who believe a racist cop killed an innocent kid will cry "injustice!" if the evidence shows something different.  Those who believe a good cop killed an aggressive man will cry "injustice!" if the evidence does indeed show the police in the wrong.

But this is not an isolated case.  We rate our politicians based on our feelings about them and about our situation rather than any facts.  Some blindly follow the President (regardless of who's in office), simply ignoring any data that might prove him a failure.

Despite clinical research on the harm of using marijuana, some continue to proclaim it's safety and pressure legislatures to legalize it. Read the findings of the National Institute of Drug Abuse and tell me if this is the harmless little "weed" many FEEL should be allowed.

Despite 6000 years of human civilization, we now FEEL that homosexuality is natural and OK, and therefore must be endorsed by all, even those who disagree on religious grounds.

Despite the richest 10% of people paying more than 70% of federal income taxes, some FEEL that they do not pay their "fair share."

Despite funding 16 other forms of birth-control, some FEEL that Hobby Lobby, with the support of the U.S. Supreme Court, will not allow its employees to purchase birth control, and is therefore anti-woman.

Despite clear biblical mandates on a whole host of issues, too many churches FEEL that the importance of giving people what they want supersedes God's clear instructions.

And the list could go on and on.

How do we reverse this trend?  Is it too late for America to embrace any set of facts and choose leaders who will choose wise paths for this nation?  Or are we doomed to FEEL our way into oblivion?

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Confessions of a Clay Jar

"But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us."  ~ 2 Corinthians 4:7

I hurt.

Better today, but a LOT yesterday.

Many of my readers (all both of them) know that I am a runner.  And I have very steadily been building up my mileage- not for any planned race but just for the sake of doing so.  Last week I was able to run 9 miles on Monday, with three separate 5 mile runs scattered throughout the week.  And I felt pretty good doing so, at least until the end of the week.

But all of my ailments have decided to flare up at once.  My arthritic toe, which is fairly new (the arthritis, not the toe) has hurt fairly steadily for probably a month.  My piriformus syndrome, which is literally a pain in the butt, has been a long-standing issue that had played nice...until last week.

In short, I hurt.

Now several things may be going on.  Most experts will tell you that a good pair of running shoes should last between 300-500 miles, and mine are at 343 (yes, I track that).  So I've changed to a new pair, hoping that with some rest and new shoes the pains will subside.

It may also be that my age is catching up with me.  I sure hope not.  It's much easier to change to a new pair of shoes than to a new me!

Paul was not immune to the nature of the temporariness of life.  In this letter to the Corinthian church he wrote of such, calling our bodies "jars of clay", which even in our day symbolize a certain fragility.  Obviously our lives are very short- even for the oldest among us- and from the moment of our birth our bodies begin to decay until that moment when we breathe our last and enter either an eternal time of blessing and praising our Savior in heaven or an eternity of conscious torment in hell.

But look at WHY Paul says this happens to us.  While yes, death and decay are a result of the fall, Paul also includes an even bigger reason for our aging:

"to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us."  

Imagine if we lived forever enjoying the strength and vigor of our youth. I don't imagine it would take very long to believe we were invincible (since we truly would be), and thus would have no need for God.  We would in fact be our own Gods, self-sufficient in almost every way.

So I guess if I have to choose between my need for God and my desire for youth, I'll choose the former.  Trust me, it's a much better deal.

Now as my butt goes numb from the icepack I'm sitting on, I think I'll bid you a very chilly adieu.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Ann Coulter, Stop Speaking for Jesus

"If Dr. Brantly had practiced at Cedars-Sinai hospital in Los Angeles and turned one single Hollywood power-broker to Christ, he would have done more good for the entire world than anything he could accomplish in a century spent in Liberia." ~ Ann Coulter

"Many will say to Me on that day, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?' And then I will declare to them, 'I never knew you; DEPART FROM ME, YOU WHO PRACTICE LAWLESSNESS.'" ~ Jesus Christ, Matthew 7:22-23

I guess when you read as many blogs and articles as I do, the odds will be that something at some point will make you gag.  Enter Ms. Coulter's entry from yesterday.

At one level I get it.  She, and many others on both sides of the political spectrum, owe their livelihood to their ability to shock people by their comments, further divide an already divided nation, and marginalize those who disagree, regardless of whether or not that person can present facts.  And I confess, I often agree with her assessments.

But her latest observation is beyond even her pale (pun intended).

Perhaps I should stop for a moment and let some of you catch up; afterall  you may not recognize the name of the aforementioned doctor or be familiar with the topic at hand.

Samaritan's Purse is an aid organization related to the Billy Graham Evangelical Association.  They routinely send volunteer doctors and nurses to remote parts around the world, offering free medical and dental care to people who may have never before seen a doctor.  Not surprisingly, many of these people have illnesses that we in the United States can hardly imagine.

Dr. Kent Brantly is one of those doctors.  Serving recently in Liberia, Africa, he contracted the Ebola virus, which if left untreated is deadly.  Samaritan's Purse immediately arranged transport for both Dr. Brantly and Nancy Writebol, a fellow missionary who also caught the disease, back to the U.S. where they could get treatment.

Again, enter Ms. Coulter.

I don't know if her facts are correct, but her blog begins with the statement that his return cost the organization $2 million, and she questions whether this was worth it; not whether it was worth saving the two, but whether serving in Africa is worth the risk.

If she had stopped there, I would disagree with her, but I would at least be able to respect the differing viewpoint.  If she had stopped there.

She didn't.

Instead, she dresses up her vitriol in an feeble attempt to appear a caring Christian, lamenting the lost in this nation who are not cared for while this doctor apparently flitters about in Africa, as if to say Jesus cares more for Americans than He does for the lost in other nations.

This would be sad if not so sickening and jingoistic.

She does make some interesting points in noting that too many lost, hurting people in this country are ignored by some in favor of reaching out to other nations.  In that she is correct.  But minus the venom in her sentiment, why does it have to be either/or?  Why would we ever think that we need to ignore one group while focusing on the other?  Can't it be that the Church is far big enough to reach lost Americans AND lost Africans (and lost Europeans and lost South Americans and lost Asians and....)?

In Jesus' last earthly words, as recorded in Acts 1:8, he encourages His disciples that "you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”

The last time I checked a map, the U.S. is not the sum-total of the end of the earth.  I believe that Africa can be included in that description.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Sharnado 2 and the Gospel

"For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes..."
Romans 1:16

OK, I confess: I was one of the 3.9MM viewers, at least for part of the evening.  And if you say you weren't, there is an awfully good chance that you are lying.

In recent years, SyFy has shown a seemingly endless string of bad (really bad...I mean really, really bad) science fiction movies.  To their credit, they are in on the joke, i.e. they know they are bad; in fact they are intentionally bad.   I mean really, how could anyone be serious about a movie called "Sharktopus vs. Pteracuda" or "Mega-Python vs. Gatoroid", two other classics regularly seen on the network.

The genius of the genre, as I noted to my wife, is that the original Sharknado provided for 5000 tweets per minute, a phenomenon that I believe led to the creation of the sequel.  In other words, SyFy, fully aware of how bad the franchise is, chose to make an intentionally bad movie just to drum up Twitter traffic about it, which in turn would drive viewers to watch, and hence advertising dollars.  Genius!

What's all this have to do with the gospel, you ask?

Well, just this.  Are we as excited about getting out the good news of Jesus Christ as we are about sharing ridiculous movie lines or improbable special effects?  Is the gospel as worthy of 140 characters as pointing out each surprise cameo appearance?

Do we not promote Christ on Social Media because we are ashamed, or because we just don't care?

Stings like a shark-bite, don't it?

Friday, July 25, 2014

The Thinks You Can Think

"Think left and think right and think low and think high. Oh, the thinks you can think up if only you try." ~ Dr. Seuss

"Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us, to Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations forever and ever. Amen." ~ Ephesians 3:19-20

Living in the St. Louis area for 3+ years now, one of the things that I most love about the city is the amount of free things that are available.  As attractions go, the various entertainment outlets of St. Louis and the surrounding area do a great job of providing free or low cost opportunities for fun.

One of those free things that I most appreciate is The Muny.  It is a professional caliber outdoor theater that puts on Broadway shows all summer long.  And at each performance, though some choose to purchase tickets, a large portion of the audience is allowed in for free.  I highly suggest checking out their website for the history of the theater, as well as a list of each summer's productions.

Because the productions are so good and free (did I mention that?), for the past three seasons we have taken our church youth group to a show.  This past Tuesday evening, we saw the musical Seussical™, a musical adaptation of the many works of Dr. Seuss.  And though my literary knowledge of Heir Doctor is pretty much limited to the annual Christmas rite of the Grinch, the musical does spur the imagination in fun, lively ways.

The above quote leads me to think of the Ephesians passage above, and this all leads me to one conclusion:  God's power in our lives is, in a way, limited by the limits of what we believe and expect of Him.

Now of course God exists independent of us, and His power is in no way dependent on our imagination, but how often do we lose out on seeing something truly amazing because we think it's beyond His power to do. 

After all, James wrote, "ye have not, because ye ask not" (James 4:2 KJV).  And Jesus told His disciples, "And whatever you ask in prayer, you will receive, if you have faith." (Matthew 21:22 ESV).

So what do we do with this?  Are we clear to pray for singing blue elephants or mischievous cats in red and white striped hats?  Clearly no, for the promise of answered prayers only extends to what is within the will of the Father, and strange, rhyming creatures most likely are not.  But we can rest assured that when we pray for those things that He wants, specifically as laid out in His word, no matter how outrageous they may seem to our earthly senses, He will do.

Now that's worth singing about!

Thursday, July 17, 2014

How Dare They?

In light of the recent Hobby Lobby ruling before the Supreme Court (off the subject, but don't you hate the whole "SCOTUS" thing?), I call on everyone who objects to it to take a step back, look at the facts, and really consider if curbing the religious freedoms of a company's managers- who contrary to popular opinion are really living, breathing people too- is worth the ultimate conclusion of such a stand.

In the interest of full disclosure, my points below are mostly from a Facebook post I posted when sharing an article I read, looking at such an idea.

So I guess if companies should be forced to give up their religious beliefs in order to operate, as some would have us believe, then we need to look at these examples and do what I suggest below.

Each of these suggestions is based on something contained in the corresponding number within the story.

1. Companies should immediately cease from giving to charity, as it may employ someone who objects to giving to others in need.

Of course this sounds absurd, as the rally cry of the Left these days is that corporations are all greedy anyway, but as the article explains, some corporations- and not just Christian ones-make a practice of giving substantial portions of their profits to charitable organizations.  Though you might have trouble finding an employee of a given company opposed to any charitable giving, it's rather easy to imagine someone opposed either to giving so much (and possibly minimizing employee pay or benefits) or the organization that is benefiting.  I find Planned Parenthood wholly abhorrent.  If I worked for a company that gave to them, I might quit my job, I might lead a boycott of the company, and I might picket.  I would not, however, demand that the government force the company to stop its giving.

2. Islamic banks, who do not charge interest because it violates the Koran, should immediately start charging their customers interest, because the bank may employ a capitalist.

Likewise, as noted in the article, some Jewish companies guide themselves by the Torah, or the first five books of the English bible.  Are we to throw out all instruction from the Torah, including such offensive commandments as "Thou Shall Not Kill" simply because the instruction comes from a faith with which I do not agree?

3. All companies should force their employees to work longer hours, rather than give them evenings or Sundays off.  Just who is the company, anyway, to decide for me that I should spend time with my family?

In this age of family/free-time deity, it's hard to imagine an employee wanting to work longer hours.  But what if someone really needs the money?  Should we force Hobby Lobby, Chik-Fil-A, and others to open on Sundays so that those who desire money more than family or church time can be satisfied?

4. We should immediately regulate the decor of each business.  After all, you never know if a waitress at a Indian restaurant may be Christian and object to the images of Buddha on the walls.

I know, a waitress at an Indian restaurant can always quit and work somewhere else, but wait; isn't this the alternative that is routinely shot down in the recent abortificant cases?

5. All businesses that promote hedonistic pleasure should immediately be shuttered, as their belief in pursuing pleasure may be counter to an employee's belief in chastity or self-control.

What if the only job a young Christian can find or is qualified for is washing dishes at a gentleman's club?  What if a single Jewish mother has to support her children by waiting tables at a BBQ restaurant?  Should those companies be forced to alter their actions because an employee doesn't believe in them?

6. No company, at any time, should provide any type of charitable assistance to an employee.  If I believe in self-reliance, it may deeply offend me that you dare offer me help.

No need to elaborate more than I did in the other points above.

My point is this.  Everyone cannot have everything.  And while some issues, such as abortion (and let's limit the discussion to abortion, OK?  The Court did absolutely nothing to prevent women from obtaining birth-control, regardless of what some want you to believe) is a hot-button issue, the fact remains that no one can have everything they want for free.  I want a Lamborghini.  I cannot expect my employer or the government or anyone else to pay for it (though if someone wants to buy me one, that would be OK).  Moreover, ideas such as religious freedom are expressly written into our constitution, while more recent "rights", such as abortion, were implied into it centuries later, so we cannot just abandon religious freedom for political correctness or convenience.

If you shout "How dare they?" in this case, think about what you will shout next time when the same logic is employed against your ideals.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Your Best Life Now

"Start living your best life now!" ~ Joel Osteen

"If you're living your best life now, you're headed for hell." ~ Shai Linne

With all due respect to the toothy one, I side with Shai.

Oh I know what Mister (never Pastor) Osteen is trying to say.  And part of me agrees.  If you are in Christ, your life should be amazing.  But somehow I think he and I (and Paul, and Peter, and Jesus, and...) disagree on just what it means to have an amazing life.

Jesus did not die on a cross to give you a bigger house.

Jesus did not die on a cross to give you a nicer car.

And no, Jesus did not die on the cross to give anyone a toothier smile.

Conversely, Jesus didn't die on the cross to just give us heaven, though that seems to be the only blessing most of us ever hear about.

Jesus said, "I came that they may have life and have it abundantly." John 10:10
Paul wrote, "But God...made us alive together with Christ- by grace you have been saved" Ephesians 2:4
Peter wrote, "If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you." 1 Peter 4:14

Note: none of these men had wonderful, wealthy lives.  Jesus' life is well attested to, and it was a life of poverty and loneliness,  ending with a tortuous death as a penalty for others' sins.

Paul says himself that, "Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea;  on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers;  in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches."

And tradition holds that Peter was crucified for his faith and preaching, and suffered so in an upside-down position, holding that he was unworthy to die in the same manner as his Lord.

If our best life now means some sort of comfort or material blessings, surely Jesus, Paul, and Peter missed something.  But if we're to believe, as they taught, that our best life now is a relationship with God that can only be had through faith in Jesus Christ, and that that relationship will stand no matter what hardships we might face, then let's stop swallowing this nonsense that God wants us to be happy (unless we define happiness as closeness to Him.)

You really can know your best life now.  And believe it or not it's so much better than the world can imagine!

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

A Time for Everything

"For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven."
Ecclesiastes 3:1 (ESV)

OK, let's try this again.

Has it really been since February, 2013 that I've blogged?  Perhaps I should rename this site the "Blob Blogger" since I've been so lazy about it, but if Solomon saw the wisdom in seasonality, who am I to argue?

Time to get serious again.  Yep, serious starting.... now.

Well, last week was my now annual rite of Illinois Super Summer, a week long discipleship camp for teenagers.  To say that this week has been and was again a blessing is an understatement, one which would imply that a single word (and an overused one at that) could define the joy that comes from watching the next generation of Church leaders grow nearer to the Lord.

(For student and staff reactions, click here).

Starting small, I won't go into a great deal of the week, but you know it's gonna be a great time when on the very first night a student from your own Youth Group gives her life to Christ, and another student from your group asks to be baptized.  In between, nothing spectacular like those events, just deep discussions, light bulbs going "on," tear-filled worship, and an overall excited buzz for what might happen in the coming weeks.

If you would, please be in prayer for at least one student plan that was hatched last week.  I can't go into detail yet, but if this plan gets off the ground I believe it could have a HUGE impact on the teenagers in this area. 

Maybe this is how Jesus will act in this generation!