Thursday, December 24, 2009

With Apologies to Clement Moore

Twas the night before Christmas...

and all through my house not a creature was silent, not even my spouse...

There is no doubt that the Christmas season is hectic. Shopping, partying, shopping, special church services, shopping, cooking, eating, shopping, more eating, and even more shopping. It's no wonder that the days leading up to Christmas are among the most stressful of the year. How telling the comparison between our never slowing pace of life and the gentle simplicity of that night in Bethlehem so long ago. We all would benefit from such a simplicity in our own lives.

the children were nestled in front of the tube, where holiday specials turned them into boobs...

You know Dasher and Dancer and Prancer and Vixen, but do we know Jesus? My heart breaks over the absence of Jesus in our Christmas observances. Santa Claus has replaced the Savior and the only star we know anything about seems to be the one on the top of the tree. Is it any wonder that Jesus has become an afterthought in our culture when he's not even the center of our lives and homes?

And mom with the checkbook and I with some chicken had just settled down to count money with Quicken....

All I want for Christmas is the mantra for the holiday, and not just for children. Christmas has become a time of greed. But all our stuff won't make us any happier or solve any of our problems. We spend our lives in pursuit of things that won't give us true fulfillment while we ignore the one who can meet our deepest needs. What would happen if we used our wealth to help others rather than wasting it on ourselves?

When out on the lawn there arose such a noise that I thought someone was stealing my lawn toys.

But what to my wondering eyes did appear but a sky full of angels and light bright and clear.

They spoke out a message so simple and plain that it cut through the fog that clouded my brain...

Behold, I bring you good news of great joy...for unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, Christ the Lord.

The greatest news of all is that God Himself became one of us. The greatest gift that we would ever receive, the Son of God came to bring us back into a right relationship with God the Father.

That's what Christmas is.

Merry Christmas from my home to yours.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Bah Humbug!?

I recently went with our church's children to see a Christmas pageant presented by a rather large church. This was the second year that I have been to this particular church to see their Christmas pageant. Throughout my years in ministry I have led numerous Christmas programs, some small, some not so small. I have been in large scale programs a number of times as well, so I feel that I can speak from an informed point of view. This particular pageant was visually and musically stunning. There can be no doubt about the talent and skill that was on display. They presented a wonderful program. But I was disturbed as I sat through the program and that feeling only increased as I considered what I saw and heard.

The program was divided into three sections: a choral opening was followed by a "traditional" program followed by a "spiritual" program. The opening portion featured a choral concert of traditional Christmas hymns such as "O Come, All Ye Faithful." This was a beautiful experience, although is was all too brief.

The "traditional" program featured what could best be described as vignettes built around secular Christmas songs such as "I'll be Home for Christmas" and "Here Comes Santa Claus." The amount of work that went into this portion of the pageant was obvious. This was the longest portion of the entire evening.

The third, "spiritual" portion of the pageant featured, for the most part, music that I was unfamiliar with. The centerpiece of this section was a recreation of the nativity. My son, who attended with my, noticed that the leadership took liberties with the biblical account by having the wise men come to worship at the manger. This was the shortest portion of the program.

Why was I disturbed by what I saw and heard during this performance? I have a very real problem with a church, which by definition is a body of believers who proclaim Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord, placing a greater emphasis on Santa Claus and the secular than on the birth of our Savior. I am also disturbed that the leadership of the music ministry would be so disrespectful of the Word of God and present a decidedly unbiblical version of the events at the manger. These may seem like small things to be concerned about, but if you raise the water temperature one degree at a time you can boil a frog without him ever knowing about it. The church has lost its power and effectiveness one small step at a time through small compromises such as these.

What the world needs to hear at this time of year is not "Here Comes Santa Claus" or "Frosty the Snowman" but "It Came Upon the Midnight Clear" and "What Child is This." Why would we sacrifice our message? We know the true reason for the season and we should be true to that message in all that we do.

May you know the very best of God's blessings this Christmas season.

Friday, December 4, 2009

The Things that Last

The last few weeks have been very difficult. October was filled with the flu (yes, the swine flu visited our house) and November was filled with getting back on our feet and tracking down a diagnosis for a child's ongoing medical problems. Nothing occupies your mind and time quite like the illness of a child. So I haven't blogged, or done much else other than what had to be done, in a long while. But a trip home for Thanksgiving has brought me back.

I hadn't been home in seven years and felt a strong need to go home again, so I arranged to take a week of vacation for the Thanksgiving holiday. One of the things that I wanted to do on this trip was to go back and revisit some of the places I had lived during my childhood. My rationalization for this was the opportunity to show my children those places that they had heard their dad talk about. But there was a greater desire, a desire to remind myself where I had come from, to reorient myself once again with my roots. I needed to see whether I'd gone beyond the obstacles that populated my past. Had I made anything of myself?

One of the most shocking things about the trip was my discovery that many of my childhood homes (I showed my kids eight of them) had been torn down. The most disturbing absence was the one house that I lived in for two consecutive summers. I realize that houses are torn down all the time, but in our minds there is something permanent about the houses we grow up in and the schools we attend. To see those houses no longer there shook me, reminding me of the transient nature of the life I have lived and the unsettled nature of all of our lives. I believe that it is a sad truth that we all lack a basic sense of security in our lives.

On Sunday of our visit with my parents we attended church with them. This is the church that I grew up in, attending from the time I was nine or ten until I left to go to college. The buildings were the same, but I only knew (not counting my parents) two other people who attended that morning. That only seemed appropriate considering all the lost houses I had seen.

Then one simple statement reminded me of the things that truly last. That morning my mother introduced me as her "son." That may not mean much to you, I mean, mothers introduce their sons all the time. But let me explain...My mother is not my birth mother...she and her family took me in when I was sixteen and had been abandoned by my biological parents. Since that day she has never ceased to introduce me as her son and to tell everyone that my children are her grandchildren.

Those simple words reveal a truth that our culture has forsaken. Real worth and value is not found in houses or blood, but in the sacrifice that love willingly gives. My mom and dad willingly gave of themselves to take me in and give me a home. There was nothing that I could have done that would have made me worthy of such love and sacrifice. God exemplifies that love and sacrifice....For God so loved the world that He gave his only begotten Son....I don't care to debate the theological implications of those words, but we cannot escape their plain meaning: God loved the world (that's you and I) that He sacrificed his Son for us! We didn't earn it, don't deserve it, and cannot change those facts.

I can never thank AJ & Shirley Munnerlyn for the love and sacrifice they extended to me....and I see in their acts a true reflection of the love and sacrifice of God for us all. That's the only thing that makes life worthwhile and the source of all things to give thanks for.

Thanks Mom and Dad.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Thoughts on God and Pain

I recently celebrated a significant anniversary. You see, on my 16th birthday my father set me on a path that would lead to my independence. He threw me out of his house. Actually he told me that he wanted me gone before he woke up the next morning. My mother had left him just a few weeks before and I guess he decided that he didn't need me any more than he needed her. What did I do? I bought a plane ticket and flew from Phoenix, AZ back to Little Rock, AR. My mother was in Little Rock and my natural instinct was to go to her. Two weeks later she announced to me that she was going to California and she wasn't taking me with her. Those events took place 33 years ago.

Please allow me to backtrack and tell you that I wasn't a bad kid, in fact, I would like to think that most parents would have been glad to have me. I was a good student, went to church, and had never been in any trouble. I didn't smoke or drink or chew and didn't go with girls that did either. I was no saint, to be sure, but I wasn't trouble either.

I wish I could tell you that I was prepared for my abandonment and that I handled it like it was any other event in my life....But I didn't. To be honest, I wasn't surprised, but I still had a real hard time accepting that my parents didn't want me, and by extension didn't love me. My love for my parents was real, even though I knew that they weren't exactly Bob and Carol Brady. My home life was filled with violence and abuse of every kind. I learned very early on to discern the proper times to be at home and the times to be gone, which was often. I used to joke that I could spend a week on Oprah and not exhaust the stories, the problem is that it wasn't a joke. The safety net didn't catch me....and I paid a price. I grew up lonely and fearful. My parents drilled into me three primary lessons about who I was: 1. I was a mistake, 2) I was ugly, and 3) No one would ever love me. I carried those lessons for a long time and can even hear their whispers as I write these words.

Life was hard. But it was still life, and I'm grateful for those lessons, no matter how hard they were to learn. I only wish I had learned their lessons sooner. But I have and live with no regrets. I can, from this vantage point, look back and see the hand of God protecting, guiding, and strengthening me throughout those long and lonely years. I wish I could say that I was always aware of His presence, but my lack of understanding doesn't negate the work He did in my life all those years ago. His ways are seldom understandable to our minds.

I recently listened to a program for pastors on CD-Rom and I heard the statement "God doesn't wast pain." I was so profoundly impacted by that statement that I actually hit the back button three times to hear it again and again. God doesn't waste pain. God is with His children in every situation, whether we can see Him or not. There is nothing that takes Him by surprise or causes Him to alter His plan. God actually brings good out of the pain of our lives. I have come to a point in my life where I can truly thank God for those dark times in life. I have known abuse of every type, abandonment, death. I have been wrongly accused, fired, and been viciously attacked by those with nothing more that a dislike for me. And God has known about every situatin before they happene and has not wasted any of my pain.

In my pain God has taught me about love and faith. Fear and courage. True strength and the value of weakness. Through defeat and loss I have learned that God keeps a different type of score than I do. I have come to appreciate God's ways whether I like them or not, whether they make sense to me or leave me utterly confused. I have learned that I am not first and I've learned to be okay with that. Those thoughts are completely foreign to most believers today, but they weren't lost on the early church or the great saints of the past. Could it be that believers today are unaware of this truth? It is true that we don't hear much preaching today about self denial or dying to self, or is the issue one of unwillingness to sacrifice our desires and comfort for the sake of the cross?

One of my favorite men in the Bible learned that God doesn't waste pain. His name is Joseph. Joseph knew rejection by family, false accusations, deprivation, and loneliness. But Joseph learned that God used all of that pain to prepare him for something far more important than his personal happiness. Thanks, Joseph, for giving me an example. Thank you God for using my pain to make me more than I could be by myself. I fully realize that I've failed far more than I've succeeded, but even in my failures you've not wasted by pain. May you give me enough wisdom to learn from those lessons as well.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Lessons from a Piano Player

Today started out as one of those days. I prayed very specifically for someone only to find later that they were experiencing the very thing that I had asked God to deliver them from. This was followed by a trip to the mechanic. I recently had a pretty significant amount of work done on our Suburban. With six kids we naturally require a larger vehicle and the Suburban fills the bill nicely. On a trip to the closest Sam's yesterday I noticed that the truck was running hot. The repair work that we recently had done all had to do with the cooling system. I reasoned that it was merely a minor adjustment to one of the previous repairs. But it wasn't. While still unsure as to the true nature of the problem we are faced with the possibility that we may have to replace the engine. I don't know anyone for whom that expense wouldn't be prohibitive. All this before 8am.

My day then took me to the hospital, where I stood by the bedside of an Alzheimer's patient. The disease has robbed this person's family of a parent. This person was unaware of my presence but appeared full of despair. My heart breaks for their family and for the patient. The other visits were not as difficult, but taxing all the same. Everyone looks to a pastor for understanding and comfort, yet they are unaware of the cost these demand of the human agent involved. Hospitals are by their nature places of great stress and emotional upheaval.

My next trip took me to the nursing home. I must confess to you that nursing homes are not my favorite places to visit. A bad experience at a nursing home as a child still has a profound effect on me today. But I have learned to deal with my discomfort. The first place I always check for the person I came to see is the dining room. I found her there taking part in a worship service being held by a local church. As I came into the dining room the first thing I noticed was the piano. The woman playing the piano was in her 60's but she played with the energy and enthusiasm of someone a third her age. The music was infectious and joyful and I enjoyed it as much as the residents. It was uplifting to see and hear her play.

But the blessings did not stop there. After a testimony time a woman using an oxygen tank shared a devotional message. I honestly cannot tell you much of what she said, but I can tell you that she made this statement: Without the mountain you have no testimony. When I heard those words it was as if the Lord had slapped me on the side of the head and said "See, there's a purpose in all this." I don't know about you, but I need to be reminded every now and then that God really is in control. Somewhere in the course of the morning I had become overwhelmed by the hurt and struggle all around me. Coupling that with the unpleasant possibilities with the car and I found it easy to think that God had somehow forgotten my situation.

Without the mountain you have no testimony. How easy is it to forget the truth of those words. She went on to say that we shouldn't pray that God would move the mountain but that we should pray for strength to climb the mountain. There are people all around us who need to see that God can and does give us the strength to climb the mountains of our lives, whether they are financial, health, or spiritual mountains. I should have remembered that and I'm more than a little embarassed to admit that I had allowed myself to forget it. In my years in ministry (30 years come November) I have met many people who thought their pastors could make no mistakes...I'm sure I've disappointed all of them. But I'm also certain that God has provided the strength to climb every mountain.

As I thought about that this morning I thought about the piano player. She had seen much trouble in her life, I'm sure, but there she was playing with a passion and a joy that told me that she understood that there was a purpose in the mountains she had faced. She had learned the truth of God's presence and the strength he provides on the mountains. She reminded me that cars, health and church are all under his dominion. The may be mountains to me, but they are opportunities for God to prove his faithful love for me.

Thank you ladies....God used you to redeem my day.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

A Pastor Lets Off Some Steam

I never cease to be amazed by the brazen hypocrisy of people. Recently three politicians have been in the news for revelations that are embarrassing to say the least, but whose subsequent actions are truly incredible. I will deal with these fine examples of leadership one at a time and then attempt to make sense of it all.

First on our list is the honorable (what an embarrassment to use the word) Mark Sanford, governor of the fine state of South Carolina. The good governor didn't have the good sense to keep his pants on....even to the point that he made numerous trips to South America to see his "soul mate." Never mind the fact that his "soul mate" (how I hate using that phrase) is not his wife or the mother of his children. This disgusting example of all that's wrong with modern manhood then had the nerve to announce that he would not resign the governorship. I'm not from South Carolina, but I cannot imagine that Gov. Sanford is an accurate reflection of the fine people that he serves as governor.

Then there's Bob McDonnell, the republican candidate for the governorship of Virginia. Mr. McDonnell wrote a Master's thesis some twenty years ago in which he had the gall to say extreme things like the feminist movement is harmful to families, governmental policy should protect and promote traditional families, and criticize a Supreme Courth ruling that there is a legal right for single persons to receive government funded contraception. Now before you go join the local lynch mob that is looking for Mr. McDonnell you should be aware that Mr. McDonnell has been backing away from these "radical" positions faster than a crawdad on steroids.
But the interest of fairness (Mrs. Sanford and McDonnell are Republicans) I must point out none other than the tax man himself. Rep. Charles Rangle of the 15th district of New York. Rep. Rangle, who is the chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee has seriously underestimated his income, gotten sweetheart deals on houses, and conveniently failed to disclose his ownership of a posh getaway place in the Dominican Republic! Oh, I almost forgot...He also gave large cash donations to three members of the House Ethics Committee just before they investigated him! Did I mention that Rep. Rangle is the chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee? Did you know that committee oversees the IRS?
My greatest problem with each of these men is that they have forsaken, in order, their marriage vows, their personal conviction of what is truth, and the law and constitution of the United States. I suppose the argument could be made that we can't expect anyone in our multi-cultural, post-modern society to be faithful to their wedding vows, understanding of truth, or even the constitution that they have sworn to uphold and protect. What's next...math that lets 2+2 = 7? Don't laugh, I was alive when "new math" was introduced!
But before I leave behind this motley crew I have to add some more members. Today I wish to nominate church members. I realize that I have just offended a whole lot of people. I'm not talking about those faithful, gracious saints who love God and the church. I'm talking about those folks who fuss over things like the color of carpet, the music style or even what the preacher is preaching. I have heard all of these complaints throughout my years as a minister. A selfishness has invaded the church that is destroying it from the inside out.
Folks, IT SHOULD NOT MATTER what color the carpet is or what style the music is (as long as the lyrics are theologically accurate and pleasing to God) or even what book of the Bible is preaching from. Mature believers realize that church is not about buildings or music or liking either the preacher or what he's preaching....Church is about loving God and serving others...I think Jesus called those two the greatest commandments!
Yet our churches continue to be consumed by materialism, commercialism, and selfishness. Is it any wonder that our altars are empty, our youth are wayward, and the world discounts us? I
give thanks to God for the faithful few who get it.

Monday, August 24, 2009

"In the future, everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes."
Andy Warhol
Andy Warhol spoke those words in 1968. I don't believe he had any idea how ferociously we as a culture would embrace his idea. The proliferation of "reality" tv has turned most of us into instant celebrities or shameless voyuers of a sort unimaginable fifty years ago. This has been driven home to me powerfully over the last two months, and sadly reinforced over the past week.
In between the incessant speculation concerning Michael Jackson's death (was it murder?) and burial (when and where?) there was a gruesome murder in San Diego. A body was discovered in a suitcase, mutilated beyond normal means of indentification. The victim was later identifited as Jasmine Fiore, a swimsuit model. Her husband (former, ex, there is some debate over the true nature of their relationship), Ryan Jenkins fled to Canada where he was later found dead by his own hand. It is a sad commentary on the sensibilities of our culture that this gruesome crime was deemed newsworthy not because of the act of murder, but because the dead woman was a swimsuit model and the suspected killer was a reality TV show contestant.
Jenkins mutilated Fiore's body beyond normal recognition in an attempt to thwart police. His gruesome work failed when authorities used serial numbers from Fiore's breast implants to establish her identity. I must confess to reading the story more than once because I was unaware that implants had serial numbers and was gripped by more than a little disbelief at how anyone would know to look for them. Jenkin's suicide means that we will never know the reasons for his horrific act, and we will never know what transpired in the final hours of a young womans' life.
Unfortunately Fiore's death also requires that we pause and consider what passes for beauty in our culture. Why did Ms. Fiore feel the need to alter her body? Would her life have turned out any differently had she not chosen to have appearance altering surgery? We will probably never know. It is a sad fact that some three hundred thousand woman choose to have breast augmentation surgery each year. This number includes those who suffer from diseasses such as breast cancer, but the ones who receive the publicity, and those who have most of the procedures performed are those who have the surgery done for purely cosmetic reasons. As the father of two daughters I am greatly concerned over the messages our culture sends to young women concerning their bodies.
When did it become acceptable, even desirable, for women to mutilate their bodies? I thought the sexual liberation of the 1960's and the feminist movement of the 1970's did away with the objectification of women. It it a damning indictment of our culture that women are still more valued for their physical appearance than for their abilities. It is even more disturbing that young women today are willingly, even enthusiastically, pursuing such a course of action. Men are rapidly joining women in this race for perfection. But women remain the primary pursurers of surgical augmentation, and it's primary victims.
I did not fall in love with the woman who is my wife because she had a perfect body or was more beautiful than anyone else. I fell in love with the person behind the outward appearance. She was, and is, witty, strong, opinionated, and passionate. Those things attracted me to her then and still powerfully attract me to her now. When and where did we lose the understanding of true beauty? Does anyone care? It certainly seems that Hugh Hefner and the power brokers behind "adult" entertainment don't. Nor does it seem that fashion designers and marketers. The internet and entertainment mediums share in the guilt as well, perhaps even moreso because they are the primary promoters through their websites and programming. These all share a portion of the blame for this objectification of women. The pursuit of our 15 minutes of fame has cheapened and degraded us all.
God made each one of us. The Psalmist recognized that each of us is "fearfully and wonderfully made (see Psalm 139:14)." That means that God recognizes the wonder and the beauty of all of us just as we are. His love for us is not conditioned on perfect bodies or faces, but conditioned on who God is and the love and grace he extends to us through His Son. We don't have to alter our bodies to earn that love. Why do we settle for something far less? And yet we do, from Rogaine to Botox, from tanning beds to liposuction. All our attempts to find perfection only mask the true beauty of who we are and blind us from knowing true love and its author.
You can have my 15 minutes....if that's fame, I don't want it.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

The Valley of the Shadow of Death

Still fumbling with the shoe covers, I stumbled into the delivery room. What confronted me there took my breath away. There to my left lay my wife, holding her hand out to me, seeking my comfort. My newborn son lay on a warming table to my right. I stood frozen between the two, uncertain where I should be. As I stood watching my son I saw his tiny arms and legs twitch once and then again. Then before my eyes he went still. My son Jonathan died that moment, and something inside of me died that day too.

Those events took place August 12, 1987, twenty-two years ago today. I was 26 years old, old enough to know that life was hard, but young enough to still believe that I could change the world. I could never have guessed that this would not be the only time I would see a newborn son die. My son Timothy died in March of 1989. Throughout all of the things that I have seen and experienced in my life these are the darkest days of all. There has never been anything so hard, so devastating, so lonely.

We fear nothing more than death. Death is seen as the end of all things, the termination of not just life but also of anything associated with the one who dies. Death is a thief who takes from us that which is not his. We see death as an enemy, a mindless monster driven only by blind instinct. Death to most is a thing to be avoided at all costs.

The death of a child is the most awful thing I have ever known, easily surpassing any and all of the other struggles of my life. When a child dies there is the loss of hope, the loss of dreams. The death of a child leaves a gaping wound that defies our attempts at healing, taunting us as we see others enjoying what we have lost. I have known all of these things through the loss of not one but two sons.

Death can be overcome, not in a physical sense, but in the heart and spirit, the emotion and will. My wife and I took years to find healing, in many respects that healing is still in progress, but we are healing. Johnathan and Timothy taught me that death is a part of life and by embracing their deaths I have come to be more whole. I have learned that death is not permanent, that there is a part of each of us that lives on. As a Christian I have always believed in eternity, but the deaths of my sons drove me to delve more deeply into the question than cliches and simple, yet misguided answers. The truth is that not only do my sons live in my heart and memory, they live in heaven in the presence of God.

Death is not the end of dreams. I have come to understand that God desires to use me to bring comfort to others who have experienced death. Death does not bring an end to life for those left behind but it does require a reassessment of those things we consider important. Too many of us expect (actually it's closer to demand) that life should unfold according to our desires. We seldom consider the cost of the lives we desire. Death guides us all to reexamine priorities, desires, hopes, and goals. Through the process of grief we can come to better understand what proper priorities should be and how our lives can be more in line with the will of God.

Death is never meaningless. The death of children never makes sense, whether those children are infants or teens. There comes with death overwhelming emotions that cause us to doubt that God is in control of the events of this life. But nothing is farther from the truth. God is in control and death is neither out of His control or beyond His purposes. It is true that we may not find the answers we want in this lifetime, but we can be assured that God has a reason and purpose for permitting death to take a loved one. I have come to understand that my own life before the deaths of my sons, filled with abuse and neglect, was a preparation for learning to deal with the terrible aftermath of death. I have seen that death is not an end but the beginning of a new aspect of life, one with greater meaning and purpose. My own journey from death back to life has shown me the power of God to redeem the most terrible tragedy.

Johnathan and Timothy have bypassed the troubles and struggles of this life. They enjoy the presence of God the Father rather than struggle with the failings of their earthly father. Their deaths, while still painful to recall, have made me a stronger, more faithful man. I thank God not only for them but also for the lessons their deaths taught me.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

The Harry Potter and the Supreme Court

I recently went to the movies (one of my favorite pastimes) and saw "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince." I must confess that I have read all but the last of the Harry Potter books and have seen all of the movies. It's not that I'm a great fan of either the books or the movies, but I invest my time in them precisely because they are so popular. There is great power in the media, the type of power that was once the exclusive province of the printed word, power to shape minds and attitudes. As a parent and a concerned Christian I feel an obligation to understand what's being promoted philosophically to the wider culture. Call me what you will, but I don't trust the culture to promote what's best for anyone, especially my kids. But I digress...

I found the "Half-Blood Prince" to be visually entertaining, well-paced and for the most part well acted (Not that I'm Siskel or Ebert, mind you). If your idea of entertainment is to spend 2 1/2 hours in a darkened room unplugged from your world then "Half-Blood Prince" will fill the bill nicely. But there is a troubling aspect to the world of Harry Potter that unfortunately has an all to real counterpart to our world.

The Harry Potter stories, at their core, are morality stories. They are about self-discovery, overcoming loss, friendship, and right and wrong. That's precisely where Harry Potter falters and exposes the bankruptcy of the world of Hogwarts. The Harry Potter stories are morality stories with no moral center. In Harry Potter's world there is deception, manipulation, and the taking of life, and ambition among other things. I can hear some asking "How's that different from our world?" The answer lies in the fact that in our world there is, or used to be, a moral foundation that delineated right and wrong, truth and falsehood and other essential fundamentals. This moral foundation provides (or provided) the parameters within which civilization could reasonably operate and made possible the concepts of personal responsibility and social order. While it is true that these concepts exist in the fictional world or Harry Potter, they are not and cannot be sustained because there is no moral foundation upon which they rest. Thus civilization becomes the Darwinian ideal of "survival of the fittest."

By now you're probably wondering what any of this has to do with the Supreme Court. Since you asked....

A radio news report today announced that the Supreme Court has agreed to hear a suit challenging the legality of a cross shaped monument in the Mojave Desert. The cross, originally erected by a veteran's organization as a part of a memorial to those who died in defense of their country, has been at the center of an eight year long legal battle concerning the "separation of church and state." What's really at state in all this dust up is the moral center of American culture. If the ACLU and their friends get their way not only will public expressions of morality (don't let the drape of religion fool you, this is about the destruction of morality) be outlawed, but eventually the very concept of an overarching moral code will be swept away in favor of a do-it-yourself, make it up as you go along kind of morality.

When, and if, that happens our world will certainly be a mirror image of Harry Potter's world where there is virtually no difference between right and wrong. The Bible tells us that during the time of the Judges that everyone did what was 'right in their own eyes" (see Judges 21:25), which is a prescription for disaster.

Sadly, this is already true for too many who call themselves Christians. As Paul wrote, they have a "form of godliness" but deny its power (2 Timothy 3:5). A Christian who pays only lip service to the Word of God is really nothing more than an unbeliever in church clothing. We cannot simply pick and choose what we will follow and disregard the rest. The Bible is either the Word of God in its entirety or it's nothing but empty words. Could that be part of the reason that it's almost impossible to tell the difference between most "Christians" and the unbelieving world around them?

Something to think about.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Lessons Learned?

The recent deaths of Michael Jackson, the "King of Pop," and Steve "Air" McNair, former professional football player highlight the bankruptcy of American culture. Death has a way of bringing out the worst in us, not that many of us need any help in revealing our dark side. While in graduate school I worked for three years in a funeral home and saw first hand the effect that death has on every strata of our culture. Sadly, the deaths of the rich and famous are more often than not opportunity for spectacle and aggrandizement than serious introspection.

The Michael Jackson memorial service is a prime example of spectacle and aggrandizement. From parading elephants to parading people in various degrees of costume, Jackson's service had it all. There were widespread reports of ticket scalping. The speakers all praised Jackson, speaking in glowing terms. The crowds outside were filled with people who spoke of Jackson's effect on their life. My question throughout all this praise: What did Michael Jackson do to merit such effusive praise?

I mean no disrespect, but Michael Jackson made no great discoveries, found no cure for any diseases, did not pour out his life helping others. Michael Jackson's greatest contribution to the human race was his album "Thriller."Michael Jackson spent his life in a constant state of turmoil, as evidenced by his bizarre behavior and choices. Jackson himself once bemoaned the fact that he did not have a normal childhood, a regret that seemed to exercise immense control over the rest of his life. I do not deny his talent, but I wonder if that talent improved our world or the plight of anyone in it. All Jackson's millions and all his fame will have no lasting impact on the world.

Steve McNair was a great football player, and by all accounts a good man. He rose above his own difficult circumstances to make something of himself. Yet when the cheering stopped McNair seemed to have trouble adjusting to the mundane life that the rest of us live. McNair, the married father of four sons, had a very troubling relationship with a young woman almost half his age. It seems that this relationship cost McNair his life. I wonder why McNair could not honor his vows to his wife or his responsibility to his sons. McNair lost his life...his family lost far more.

I realize that my opinion concerning McNair is not popular, not that I care about being popular, but I refuse to excuse his choices simply because he was a great football player. I also refuse to rationalize his failures because he was a man or, as one columnist has said, a black man. Manhood, fatherhood, the commitment to your wife are all more important than the need to feel valued or manly. Mr. McNair, at least for me, forever tarnished his legacy and reputation. One man's need to relive the glory days has left four boys without a father.

Michael Jackson's fame and fortune. Steve McNair's fame and physical ability. Neither man found the answers that he sought. They both died tragically, but perhaps more tragically is that fact that they are not alone. So many of us hope to find the answers to our longings in fame, fortune or physical conquest. But there is no hope to be found in any of those things. They are all fleeting. At best fame and fortune are illusions, diverting us from the real answers for an all too brief time and leaving a greater longing than existed before.

Mr. Jackson and Mr. McNair have already learned the truth...Will we learn the truth before it's too late?

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Do You See What I See?

Recently David Letterman opened his mouth and swallowed his foot. Letterman's comedy is an acquired taste, to say the least, but I must confess to rarely missing his show during his first ten years or so on the air. I particularly enjoyed his "Top Ten" lists and will even today tune in from time to time to watch them.

Having said all that I must confess to missing the recent program in which Letterman made, or attempted to make, a joke concerning Sarah Palin's daughters. I have since seen a video of the joke. My initial reaction was one of disgust. That type of humor is why I stopped watching Letterman regularly. My second reaction was to ask the question: "Didn't anybody learn anything from the Don Imus incident?" Imus, as you may recall, temporarily lost his job and millions of dollars for a remark about the Rutgers University woman's basketball team. I am of the opinion that Imus' joke, as he called it, was much less offensive than Letterman's. Not that either is in any way appropriate. It remains to be seen what price Letterman will pay for his crude attempt at humor.

Recently Letterman issued a public apology in an attempt to blunt the backlash his "joke" has engendered. During his apology Letterman made this statement; "My intent is completely meaningless compared to the perception." I'm sure that there aren't many who remember the Andre Agassi ad campaign with the slogan "Image is everything." Letterman's intent is certainly open to debate, but we will not consider such things today. Unfortunately his words are all too true for almost every aspect of our culture. We vote for politicians, make purchase decisions, and choose churches based on perceptions. Unfortunately we too often find that perceptions are seldom equal to reality.

Unfortunately the power of perception rings true in the lives of many belivers as well. The Bible calls it hypocrisy. Very simply: far too many believers give off a vastly different perception of who they are as opposed to who they say they are. Basically, their walk doesn't match their talk. Therein lies much of what is wrong with the church today. Jesus told us that our actions reveal what is truly in our hearts. The perception about Christians is that we are hypocrites. I realize that this is a gross generalization, but the truth is that the world lumps all "christians" together. You get painted with the same brush as all other believers, good or bad.

How do we change the perception? There is only one way. Daily, consistent, persistent faithfulness that is lived out in acts of love. We can love all men without compromising the truth or disregarding the word of God. Why do we fail? Because it's hard work. We can no longer expect our words alone to be enough. We must put feet to our faith.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

That Which Defines Us.

Last week I had the distinct pleasure of taking my wife and two youngest children to see the movie "Up." My youngest are 9 and 10, so the movies we usually see are not the kinds of movies that inspire deep reflection on the meaning of life. Not that many movies inspire reflection of any kind. Yet all movies, and for that matter all forms of entertainment, flow from a philosophical base that informs everything that they present. As a parent and as a Christian I have a responsibility to carefully screen what my children are exposed to and when they are exposed to those things. I was not disappointed by "Up."

At its heart "Up" is a movie about dealing with disappointment. I don't want to give away the story, especially since I want you to see the movie for yourselves, but the movie centers around the reaction of a man to the death of his wife. The movie deals very poignantly and powerfully with the bitterness of life, the pain of unrealized dreams, and the crushing effects of loss. "Up" does not hesitate to present the harshness and struggle of life.

Harshness and struggle. We don't like those two words. The realities of life are far too often the direct opposite of the hopes and dreams that we create for ourselves in our youth. Yet words like harshness and struggle more accurately describe life than "happily ever after." Please don't think that I am a pessimist, far from it. My life has been characterized not by defeat but by victory over incredible odds and crushing losses. My faith in Christ has enabled me to find hope and meaning in hopeless loss and devastating rejection. My life has taught me that without Christ there is no hope of any kind.

I believe that we are defined not by our success but how we handle the adversities of our lives. Yet somehow that truth is never spoken of and we do not equip our children to deal with the struggles and disappointments that are such a large part of life. As a result we have raised generation after generation who are unable to cope or find meaning when life doesn't deliver what they expect.

Christians are not immune to this dilemma. The most bitter people that I have ever known are Christians whom God has "let down" by not delivering on their hopes and dreams. They seem to believe that faith in Jesus should guarantee their happiness. Salvation is not a cure all or a magic ticket to escape from all our troubles. Jesus even told us that we should expect trouble in this world. Those words are in direct opposition to much of what passes for the gospel in many churches and on many television programs today. Those who preach and teach such a "gospel" are responsible for bringing great damage to many.

So what should our response be? We must remember that while we are not guaranteed happiness and success in this life we are promised the continual presence of the Holy Spirit. The presence of God is the key to making sense of setback and heartache. We must also come to the understanding that the focus of the believer's life should be on faithful obedience that pleases the Lord, not on our selfish desires. The title of Max Lucado's book puts it into perspective: It's Not About Me. Too much in modern Christendom is about anything but God. Lastly (although certainly not exhaustively) we must come to understand that nothing comes to pass in our lives by happenstance and that, while we may be caught by surprise, God is not. There is a purpose to be found in the death of spouse or children, abandonment, and failure. But that purpose will not be found in ourselves.

The lead character in "Up" discovered (or perhaps rediscovered) that life is found not in the attainment of dreams, but in the process of living itself. When his focus shifted from himself to others he discovered life. When Christians give up "us" when can find real life in God.

And to think that I thought about all this from an animated movie.

Ya never know.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

The Last Straw?

It's already been quite a week, and it's only Tuesday! I had originally intended to talk about the bankruptcy of General Motors (or "Government Motors" as some now call it), but I heard something on the radio today that gave me pause. While driving home after taking my wife and two youngest to see the movie "Up" (a movie I highly recommend) I heard a radio news report concerning President Obama's press conference on the issue of the health care "crisis."

I have no desire to wade into the morass that is the "debate" concerning health care. I am currently paying a number of doctor and hospital bills that were either not covered or only partially covered by my insurance. Would I like better benefits? Yes. Would I like a drug benefit that made sense? Of course. Would I like to be able to make sense of the policy materials and payment schedules? Who wouldn't. Yes, there is much about American health care that doesn't make sense, but we still have the best health care system in the world.

What concerned me about the President's press conference was the report that Congressional Democrats (are there any others on the Hill?) intended to have a plan for health care reform ready for the President's signature in eight to ten weeks. I nearly swallowed my teeth when I heard that. But thankfully I didn't because I don't have dental insurance and I'm sure my regular coverage wouldn't consider such an incident as a coverable accident.

To put this in perspective let me remind you that health care represents one-eighth of the total U.S. economy. The thought that a meaningful plan for health care reform could be crafted in only eight weeks is mind boggling! But what is most frightening about this is the cost. No one is talking about the cost of reforming health care, or the universal health care that is the apple of Sen. Ted Kennedy's eye. Consider this: Medicare and Social Security are both on the verge of bankruptcy. No one is calling for reform to these two massive programs. Those two programs together don't even come close to approaching the cost of health care reform. Yet the current administration seems willing to throw money (and caution) to the wind in the name of "saving" this or that. First it was the mortgage crisis, then the banking crisis, then the automobile crisis...what's next?

The real problem, and greatest danger, is that this country does not have an infinite amount of wealth at its disposal. Sooner or later (sooner if current trends continue) the well will run dry. We are already seeing projected deficits in the trillions of dollars. Yet no one, no Democrat or Republican (the new gutless wonders), is sounding the call for fiscal restraint and responsibility. Where will it all end?

With the bankruptcy of this nation.

All our technological and military might won't save us when the economy distintigrates under the weight of our fiscal irresponsibility. No amount of reform will save us then.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Having Your Cake and Eating it Too.

On Tuesday, May 26th something not altogether expected happened. The California Supreme Court issued a ruling that upheld the legality of Proposition 8. Prop 8, as it is called, was the response of the people of California (well, at least 52% of them) to the ruling from this same court a little less than a year ago that mandated gay marriage. The furor since that ruling has yet to die down, as evidenced by the whole Carrie Prejean/Miss USA incident. Almost immediately following the passage of Prop 8 dozens of lawsuits were filed contesting the legality of the whole process. Even the Attorney General of California wanted the vote overturned.

What was at stake was nothing less than the right of self-governance. That may sound extreme, but had the California Supreme Court overturned Prop 8 then the very right of democratic, majority rule would have been done away with. Rule by judicial fiat would have become the norm and the masses would have lost their most fundamental right, the right of self-determination.

Having said all that let me say that this isn't what I wanted to talk about. The real issue here is the duplicity of the California court. An additional ruling issued on Tuesday permitted around 18,000 same sex marriages performed in the state in the year between the two previously mentioned rulings to stand. In effect, the ruling allowing these "marriages" to stand is in direct violation of the recently amended constitution. The California court effectively gutted the amendment with the second ruling. The conspiracy theorist in me smells a rat. Why, you may ask?

What few have chosen to recognize, or remember, is that this same court refused to issue a stay of the ruling that started all of this. There is a precedent, a wide one at that, even in this court to issue a stay of a ruling that will most assuredly be appealed. This was the case in the recent past when the court issued a stay in a case concerning the legality of homeschooling in California. The justices cannot claim ignorance, for during the time period given for the state to prepare to recognize same sex marriage a number of legal and political challenges were announced. The Supreme Court was even asked to issue a stay for those very reasons. The court refused. The California Supreme Court created this mess, and their answer to it is to try to give everyone what they want. The problem is no one wins, especially a culture badly in need of stopping an ever quickening decline.

California Supreme Court Justices are not alone in their desire to have it both ways. Such an attitude of compromise has come to characterize the church and Christians in general. The Bible says that we cannot be friends with both God and the world yet that is exactly what too many are trying to do. The result of such compromise is hypocrisy, powerlessness, and eventually, irrelevance. The loss of vitality has robbed our worship of any sense of the nearness of God, and for good reason. God is nowhere near much of what passes for spirituality today and so much of what is called worship, no matter what its incarnation, is merely window dressing hiding the barrenness of our souls from the eyes of outsiders.

Personal holiness is nearly extinct, yet God still calls for us to be holy because He is holy. The time has come for Christians to clean out their hearts and minds and fill them with the Spirit and the word. We will never see revival or cultural change as long as we are virtually indistinguishable from the world in which we live. Far too many of us for far too long have attempted to be like the world on the outside and be clean on the inside. The problem is that the world seeps in and soon we are just as stained inside as out.

To paraphrase Joshua, the great Israelite leader: We must choose to follow God or the world. As far as I'm concerned; I'm going with God.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Remembering Fallen Heroes

Monday is Memorial Day. There will be celebrations and services all around our country as we remember those who gave the ultimate sacrifice for our land. But Memorial Day has become both more and less than a day of rememberance. Too many in our land will enjoy a long weekend with no regard for the reason. Others will expand the celebration to include all those who have served our country buy who have since died. I have no problem with those who desire to honor the memories of all who have served our land. We as a country do too little to express our appreciation to those of every generation who have served in defense of our nation. Honor and sacrifice are dying concepts in our culture, and we are a poorer people because of it. We would do well to resurrect the committment to the greater good that has been driven from our homes, schools, churches, and government. This greater good has been replaced by a selfishness that runs far too deep in American culture.

I do have issues with the millions of Americans who will celebrate the holiday with no thought to its meaning. They will gather to eat (and unfortunately, drink to excess) and laugh and relax. Too few will pause to consider those who gave their lives to preserve that privilege. Others will shop, feeding the cancer of materialism that is eating away at the core of our national soul. Celebrations and rememberances will be all too brief and none too heartfelt. Ingratitude is the fruit of selfishness, and America has a bumper crop.

We have so much to be grateful for yet I fear we have forgotten the cost of our freedom, our wealth, and our leisure. I want to say to the families of those who have fallen in the defense of our freedom a heartfelt thank you. The sacrifice of your loved one(s) has not been forgotten and will not be wasted, at least not by this man and his family.

The church is in danger of forgetting those who have given their lives for her benefit at well. Throughout the years millions have been martyred because of their faith in Christ. Missionaries and believers of every stripe have shed their blood for the advance of the gospel. They would not desire or feel worthy of celebrations in their honor, but the church would do well to remember their sacrifice as well as the ultimate sacrifice paid by our Lord and Savior.

But they are not the only heroes I wish to remember. Those faithful servants who lived simple lives filled with the Spirit need to be remembered as well. The faithful followers who sang in the choir, received the offering, taught the children, gave of their time and money to minister to others are heroes as well. They had names like Troy, Cliff, Mildred, and Gordon. My life would not be what it is without them. I remember them this weekend and give thanks to the God who saved them and gave them a heart for one like me.

I challenge all believers this weekend to remember those who gave the ultimate sacrifice for our nation and to also remember those who gave their lives for our Savior. Pause this weekend to offer a prayer of thanks and perhaps even a word of thanks to those whom we are blessed to have with us still.

May the Lord bless you and keep you.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Getting "Pumped Up!"

While in my office I usually listen to Cd's as I work. On occasion I will listen to the radio, usually for the news updates and a few talk programs. There was one news update today that stopped me dead in my tracks. I even made sure that I tuned in to the same station in the next hour to be sure that I had heard the story correctly. The story, that I have confirmed, is about the Belgian Bodybuilding Championships held over the past weekend. It seems that officials with an anti doping agency showed up at the event in order to test the participants. When word got out among the contestants that drug testers had arrived all twenty of the participants left rather than be tested. The event had to be cancelled for lack of bodybuilders.

I'm not sure about you, but I keep seeing "Hanz" and "Franz" from Saturday Night Live in my mind. These Belgian bodybuilders give a whole new meaning to the phrase "Pump You Up!" What is really sad is that in the past as many as seventy-five percent of the body builders in this contest tested positive for drug use. Seventy-five percent! Does anyone want to argue about the purity of competition, at least in bodybuilding? We can now safely add Belgian bodybuilders to the list of "athletic entertainers" alongside professional wrestlers. There is no doubt that these men (and women) look impressive and work hard, but the truth is that they are tainted, they are frauds. Truthfully, is there anyone who still believed that they achieved their impressive physical condition without drugs?

Unfortunately there are frauds in every area of life. Some of the worst frauds are the spiritual ones, and they've been around for as long as man has walked the face of the earth. Jesus exposed the biggest spiritual frauds of his day, calling them "whitewashed tombs" and saying that they were filled with death and decay. They looked good, impressive in their ritual and their practice. Their hearts, however, were something altogether different. Not much has changed in the two thousand years since Jesus walked the earth. Men are still trying to get by on the externals without regard to the real issue, the heart. We substitute attendance and cliche' for relationship with God and love for others.

Is it any wonder that one of the chief complaints about the church is that it's filled with hypocrites? The truth will come out. Those Belgian bodybuilders revealed the truth without one blood sample being drawn. Spiritual frauds are exposed during times of stress or trial. Usually it is our mouth that reveals the truth long before our actions do. All the preening and posing is all too often cancelled out by the work of the tongue.

Like those bodybuilders, I'm afraid that far too many who profess faith aren't really what they claim to be.

It's hard to be too "pumped up" about that.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Out of the mouths of babes and billionaires - random thoughts about gay "rights"

Donald Trump's announcement that Carrie Prejean would be permitted to keep her title as Miss California will hopefuly put an end to the altogether unnecessary brouhaha over her support for the traditional definition of marriage. Miss Prejean, you will remember, incurred the wrath of the gay community (or at least some of them) when she honestly answered a question posed to her during the Miss USA pageant. Since that time Miss Prejean has become, depending on whom you listen to, either the heartless incarnation of all things evil or a minor celebrity on the verge of martyrdom and sainthood. The truth is that she is neither. Miss Prejean's greatest crime is that she had enough courage to give an answer that is consistent with her convictions.

Mr. Trump, in his statement at the press conference, reminded us all that Miss Prejeans' position on gay marriage is the same as President Obama's. Miss Prejean then spoke in her own defense, reminding us that she was exercising her right of free expression, a right that her grandfather had fought for. She gave a stirring defense of herself and her right to express her opinion. Since both Miss Prejean andthe President are of the same opinion are we to gather that the opinion of Miss California is of more importance and carries more weight than that of the President of the United States? After all, no one in the entire country has spoken critically of the Presidents' stance on gay marriage. I knew that we were becoming a celebrity driven culture, but I never imagined this! Where does the line form to appoint Miley Cyrus Secretary of Health and Human Services?

But I digress.

The most troubling aspect of all this has been that what we are seeing is the attempt to completely eliminate an opposing point of view. There was a time in history when good men could disagree honorably and with respect. That is no longer the case. As mentioned in this space before, the current method of debate seems to be the "whoever makes the most noise wins." However the dynamic at play in the whole Carrie Prejean debate (?) seems to conveniently forget that the majority of people in the country agree with Miss Prejean (and the President). Putting it plainly, the American people define marriage as the union of one man and one woman. No amount of screeching and posturing can change that fact. The inability of gay activists to win in the court of public opinion has driven them to the courts. That they have recently won in the courts is a dangerous thing. There are two possibile outcomes to this plan of action. The first possible outcome is that they win the "rights" they are seeking. The danger is that we would no longer have an elected representative government. The other possible outcome is that the people of the nation would rise up and excercise the right to vote and elect men and women who will see to it that the next generation of judges hold to the same understanding of "rights" that they do. The first would be a disaster, the second is difficult to imagine in light of our current culture.

The simple truth of the matter is that I know of no great movement in the populace (or among conservatives) to deny anyone their basic constitutional rights. At the heart of the current gay "rights" movement is not the attempt to establish the basic rights that are due to all men (as was the case in the civil rights movement), but the attempt to create a favored class of people. This is the antithesis of the intention of the founding fathers. There is no credible evidence that homosexuals have been denied the right to vote, to assemble, to worship or to speak. Demographic studies reveal that homosexuals have higher incomes, educational acheivement, and disposalbe income that heterosexuals. They hardly seem to be an oppressed minority to me.

I am well aware of the fact that these words are politically incorrect and that in many countries I could face fines or jail time for expressing them. But I am going to continue to express my opinion, whether the President of the United States, Donald Trump or anyone else agrees with me. I will also defend the right of everyone else to express their opinions as well, whether I agree with them or not.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Boldly going where few want to go.

I have been and always shall be your friend.
There's not a Trekker (yes, I am an unashamed fan of Star Trek) worth his dilithium crystals who doesn't recognize that quote. Those are Captain Spock's last words to his friend Admiral Kirk in the movie "Star Trek II: the Wrath of Kahn." I remember seeing that movie in the theatre in 1982 with a group of friends, one of whom was a greater Trekker than me. When Spock spoke these words he actually broke down and cried! That movie has become one of my all-time favorites, and not just because it's Star Trek, but because it speaks of honor, self-sacrifice, commitment and brotherhood. We don't see much of those concepts in our culture today. I guess they've become too outdated to matter anymore.
I was reminded of those words last night when I took four of my kids to see the new Star Trek movie. Initially uncertain, I was encouraged by the early buzz concerning the movie and the favorable advance reviews that I read. The movie did not disappoint. The story was filled with action, humor, and honor, self-sacrifice, commitment and brotherhood. Why do I mention those qualities again? Because they mean so much to me. I learned those values from that corny old TV series and began to seek them in the lives of others. How appropriate that this movie premiered the same day that it was announced that Los Angeles Dodger player Manny Ramirez was suspended fifty games for using a banned substance. There's not much honor in cheating, even in baseball. Our culture now celebrates the anti-hero, and sadly, in much of our current forms of entertainment we find that those who should be heroes (the police, government officials, etc.) are among the most corrupt and evil.
I have been blessed throughout my life to see qualities like honor, self-sacrifice, commitment and brotherhood practiced. The good people of the Berea Baptist Church of Jacksonville, AR lived them before me as a child. Friends like David M and Don S (both lifelong friends) continue to live them out in front of me, challenging me to make those qualities real in my own life. I am most blessed to know these people and challenged every day by their example. My greatest hope is that my children will themselves demonstrate those qualities in their everyday lives.
There is a problem, however, those qualities can never be developed on their own. They must spring from a life that has been redeemed by Jesus Christ. I make no aplogies for the fact that Jesus is my Savior, that I have given my life to Him and that I try my best to serve Him every day. The only way that the qualities of honor, self-sacrifice, commitment and brotherhood will ever become real in our lives is through the presence of the Holy Spirit, the gift of God when one receives Christ as Savior. But they don't just happen. They are developed as we submit ourselves to the leadership of the Spirit, allowing him to work in our lives, exposing the hidden things, the favorite evils that we always practice. We're uncomfortable with that process, and we won't even talk about things like confession and granting forgiveness for wrongs done to us.
There is as great a deficit of those qualities in the church as in our society. I wonder how different our churches (and our world) would be if more Christians demonstrated them in an unmistakeable way. Kirk and Spock introduced a young boy to them. People like AJ, Shirley, Cliff, Bro. Dennis, David, Don and others showed me how they are to be practiced. Those folks have been and always will be my friends.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Asleep at the Wheel

The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.
Edmund Burke
There is a disturbing trend (only one?, you may ask.) in our nation that is garnering so little attention that it brings out the conspiracy theorist in me. Today the City Council of Washington, DC by a 12-1 vote decided to recognize the legality of out-of-state same sex marriages. This follows the recent decisions by the Iowa State Supreme Court and others that essentially removed the will of the people from the policy making process. My intention here is not to debate the merits, whatever and however few they may be, of same sex marriage. The greater concern is the very dangerous precedent of bypassing the mechanism of democracy. I seem to remember from my American history classes that one of the bedrock principles of our government was the idea of "one man, one vote." I would like to ask the council members and justices who have made these decisions if they bothered with the arduous task of asking the citizens of their municipalities or jurisdictions. I seem to recall that Iowa, along with 38 other states having laws on their books that define marriage as the union of one man and one woman.
Californians even amended their state constitution to ensure such a definition was out of the reach of judges. Yet seemingly the law nor the will of the people are unimportant to the all too often appointed and not elected justices. Shockingly, the California Attorney General willfully ignored his own oath of office to file suit against the will of the people of his state. Again, this is not about same sex marriage, but about the action of a judiciary or other governmental body making decisions without seeking to know the will of the people.
For me the even more shocking aspect of these events has been the absolute silence of the mainstream media concerning this abuse of power. I have yet to see a NY Times editorial or a CNN report. There are frighteningly few voices raising the alarm. Edmund Burke is right...evil will triumph if good men do nothing. What I am calling for is nothing less than a truly American revolution. Our Founding Fathers, in their wisdom, gave us the mechanism for accomplishing this revolution: the vote. The few have for too long dictated to the many the direction of our nation. The time has come for the people of this great nation to rise up and elect men and women of honor and integrity and to replace them as need be. My opinion is that career politicians (don't you dare call them "public servants") should join the dinosaurs and dodo's in the list of extinct species.
In short, it's time to clean house!
The church faces a very similar dilemma as well. Too few church members are sufficiently informed about the Bible or the doctrines of their church to know when their leadership has forsaken the faith. Entire denominations are becoming shipwreck because the members of the local churches have become silent while the leadership of their denominations lead them down a path of compromise that can only lead to irrelevancy. The time has come for the membership of the church to rise up and hold their leadership, both locally and denominational, accountable for the conditions of our churches.
Yet, as the late Paul Harvey would say, now for the rest of the story. The church faces still another challenge. Membership that is all too willing to let the few do all the work while they reap the benefits. The widely held belief is that 20% of the membership of any church does all the work while the other 80% sit back and watch. That is not acceptable. Such indifference, selfishness, and yes, laziness is crippling our churches and burning out those who lead (both pastoral leadership and laity). Those who sit back and do nothing (except criticize, usually) have no right to speak or complain. They will wake up one day and wonder where there church has gone.
Which, I am afraid, is precisely what is happening to our country.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Go Speed Racer, Go Speed Racer, Go Speed Racer, Go!

Last week was a rather long week and Friday afternoon I took advantage of the need to do some shopping to take my wife out to eat at a town about 20 miles up the road. We had a very enjoyable time together (and the food was good too!) and even found just what we needed at Wal-Mart (Which, as most regular Wal-Mart shoppers will tell you, is a surprise.). The topper for all this was a happenstance meeting with a couple of good friends while we shopped. My wife and I shared a wonderful 2-3 hours without any kids (a rarity for the parents of six!).

I had been musing all day about my next posting. I had considered the swine flu pandemic (is it or isn't it), the outrageous response of some in talk radio to the swine flu (yes, Michael Savage, I'm talking about YOU!), and the Chrysler bankruptcy. There were a great many things flowing through my mind when they were all erased by a car that very nearly flew by me on the interstate.

Please understand that cars passing me on the interstate is not normally something I take much notice of, unless accompanied by obscene hand gestures or flashing lights. This particular car was marked in such a way that I couldn't help but notice it. The car was prominently marked "Mayor of ______". I have every reason to believe that the driver of the car was none other than the mayor of our small city. He was traveling at a rate of speed that is usually reserved for emergency vehicles or NASCAR drivers. I was soon left far behind. By the way, my cruise control was set on 70mph.

By now you are no doubt wondering why I bother to mention this, after all, doesn't everybody speed? Isn't the mayor an important person? Surely he had some important business to tend to. While I'm sure that the mayor (or whoever was driving his car) had a very good reason to be attempting to achieve "warp speed" I am troubled by the incident all the same.

Why? The mayor of our fair city receives quite a bit of press coverage, most of it by his own design. Some months ago he had a very public (all of his actions seem to be public) dust up with the acting chief of police. It seems that the mayor was attempting to coordinate police investigations. This in spite of the fact that the mayor is not a police officer. When questioned about his involvement he replied that as mayor he was the "chief law enforcement officer" for the city and as such he was free to do so.

I have no desire to debate the merits, or lack of, of the mayor's position. My concern is the blatant disregard that the "chief law enforcement officer" of my city had for the law of the state of Mississippi. My question is this: Do the laws of the land apply to those who are elected to uphold them? A speeding mayor may seem to be inconsequential, but I for one don't happen to believe that it is. A mayor, or police officer, who disregards the law is not fit for office.

Turning this line of thought to the church (I have a funny way of doing that, I know) the implications are obvious. If the pastor, deacon, Sunday School teacher is free to disregard the word of God or the accepted guidelines that are in place for their local church, who is to stop anyone else from disregarding the same? Baptists hold very strongly to the doctrine of the priesthood of the believer. This doctrine holds that all men and women are equally free to approach God without the need for a human mediator. Yet even the most ardent supporter of this doctrine will readily agree that the word of God is the ulitmate guide for the operation of the church and the qualifications of its leadership.

So what does a speeding mayor have to do with how a church operates? Very simply, there has to be accountablility to some higher authority if there is to be any sense of decency and order in how our society and churches function. If the laws of the state are of no consequence to a mayor and the Bible is of no consequence to a church or denomination there is no end to mischief that can follow. How very interesting is the similarity between the disintegration of our society and the abandonment of biblical authority for the believer and the church.

Until next time, I'm the guy with his cruise control set at the speed limit.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Politicians and other Chameleons

I must admit to being bemused by the news that Pennsylvania senator Arlen Spector is switching political parties. Spector, a long time senator who was first elected in the Ronald Regan era, announced that the Republican party had gone too far to the "right" for him. This puts the senator about as far away from me as one can get on the political spectrum. I find it amusing because I am of the opinion that it is not the Pennsylvania Republican party that moved, or for that matter, the Senator. You see, Senator Spector has been consistently on the left side of the political spectrum for his entire career. If anything the Republican party has come more towards the Senator's side of the aisle than anything else. The GOP has seemingly abandoned its historical moorings and become something akin to "Democrat Lite," as evidenced by the most recent President's propensity to elevate spending in such a way that would have made FDR giddy and his little more than lip service to a number of social issues (Supreme Court appointees notwithstanding).

Paint me a cynic, but I believe that the Senator's change was brought on more by a desire to hold onto the reigns of power and influence more than anything else. The perks and privilege of power are nearly irresistible. We all like to be stroked, to feel wanted, and to be the coolest kid on the block. But compromising one's foundations (are you listening GOP?) often comes at a heavy, and unexpected, price.

Consider the mainline denominations. The past forty years have seen one denomination after another grapple with "hot button" issues such as abortion, women clergy, the inerrancy of scripture, and most recently gay rights. These mainline denominations have, for the most part, abandoned the biblical positions that they had long held. They have been praised by the liberal media, political left and activists for the causes they adopted. But at what price? The United Methoditst Church, whose slogan is "Open Hearts, Open Minds, Open Doors" has seen those doors swing open to thousands of members leaving their denomination. The Methodists are not alone, the same has happened to the Presbyterians, Episcopalians and any number of other groups.

The church, unlike politicians, should be immune to the ever changing whims of culture. I'm not saying that we should all go back to worshipping in Latin or forsaking electricity or locking women in closets. What I'm saying is that we must never compromise the plain teaching of the Word of God just because the world thinks that biblical truth is old-fashioned. Those who compromise foundational values don't become more popular, they eventually are ignored and marginalized. The church has become weak not because the Bible is untrue, but because we have adpoted too much of the world's ways of living and thinking and tossed aside the Word of God.

Friday, April 24, 2009

I grew up in what could be described as a "dysfunctional" home. Mine was a home filled with vulgarity. I was regularly degraded and spoken of and to in profane terms. The old cliche' "cuss like a sailor" was an appropriate description of the lanugage used by my parents. I remember as a child being keenly aware of the difference in the language used at my home and the language I heard at school and other places. Someone once told me that language revealed character. How true those words have become.

Sadly, dysfunction has become commonplace in our culture. Just how common has become all too apparent in the recent flap over the response of a Miss USA contestant to a question concerning her opinion on homosexual marriage. The questioner (himself a homosexual) did not like her response and proceeded to let the world know in no uncertain terms what his opinion was.

His language, and the language of many who both agree and disagree with her opinion, has been vulgar, demeaning, and revealing. One's stand on homosexual marriage notwithstanding, the language used reveals just how dysfunctional our culture has become. The words used to condemn this young woman reveal the sad fact that we no longer know how to disagree respectfully or how to voice that disagreement in a mature way. We seem to have forgotten civility and respect, as modern entertainment and politics so powerfully demonstrate. Our culture has descended into a "loudest voice wins" approach to settling disagreements.

It seems to me that in all the clamor for "respect" and "rights" what we are really calling for is privileged status for our own opinions at the expense of those who disagree with us. The problems with this line of reasoning are legion and the topic for another day. Suffice it to say that opinion is formed by interpretation of truth and the modern abandonment of absolute truth leaves all jockeying for the ears of our audience. Our audience, itself with no binding definition of truth, grants an audience to those who can capture and hold their attention for more that a second or two. Hence the rising volume and low levels of civility in today's so-called "debate."

I find it fascinating that a beauty pageant, excuse me, a "scholarship contest" (no offense intended...just poking a little fun!) could be so culturally illuminating.

Until next time....