Monday, December 10, 2007

Can We Just Ban Some People From Being Parents?

I am mad right now. I know it is a sin, but I need to vent. First, a little background.

My wife is half Asian. Her Dad is from India. That puts her in one of the smaller minorities in the United States. The fact that she is half puts her in an even smaller minority, one that has typically faced more racism in the past than many people who were full born into one ethnicity. "Half breeds" (one of the nicest slang terms you can find for people like my wife) are typically discriminated against by white people AND by their own people. Unless they are light enough to pass for a white person and no one finds out they are half. Most people look at my wife, find out she grew up in El Paso, and assume she is Hispanic.

She works at a school that is predominately black. Most of her kids are nice, decent 9th graders. But teens are teens and she has to discipline some. One of the parents of a disciplined child called up and questioned my wife's actions because her child "felt" my wife is a racist. Well, that is a nice way of putting it. She actually yelled at my wife.

First of all, let's look at this. A racist person works at a mostly black school? Do they realize how stupid that sounds to even say that? I mean, really? Someone hates black people and they are going to go work at a place that helps black people get an education? That has got to be the stupidest thing I have ever heard. In the words of the great television prophet John Stossel: "Give me a break!"

Second of all, the root of the word "racism" is RACE - as in an entire group of people. If my wife is racist, she would have to be disciplining all people of that race, in an unfair manner. All 20 people in that class that are of that same race. Oh, but wait - she's only had to discipline 2 or 3. Whoops. I feel another prophecy coming on....

But this one gets me: RACISM IS NOT A FEELING!!!!!! It is specific actions or words. You can't feel that someone is racist, anymore that I can feel that this parent is an idiot. You have to have documented actions or logic to to prove something. Which is why I documented my logical proof that this parent is an idiot. A flat out idiot.

The thing that really burns me is that this parent had the (PG words fail me here) to whip out Biblical quotes and Jesus at the end of her tirade. You want to judge someone without even knowing a thing about them, based on your child's "feelings," and THEN tack Jesus on the end? Really?!? People like that just give Christianity a bad name. Not to mention the massive list of scriptures they break themselves in doing this. No wonder people don't want to go to Church any more.

Gandhi once said, "I would be a Christian if it wasn't for the Christians!"

If someone is discriminating against you, and you can factually prove it, then say something. But make sure you have your facts straight. If you don't have facts, and you end up being wrong, you will have just slandered another person and therefore be almost as bad as any racist. Not to mention reaping destruction on the life of the person falsely accused.

If you are a parent - let me say this: the attitude of defending and believing your child no matter what happens is wrong and destructive for your child! Like, it will really mess them up later in life if they think they are always right and never do anything wrong. Parents that act like their children are perfect angels that never do anything wrong just make me sick. That is just sinister child abuse wrapped up in a loving facade. Like my little brother said to my parents recently: "I'm so glad you guys never took my side when I lied about my teachers. You would have always been wrong!"

Okay, rant over. I know I crossed some lines in there, so I repent.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Trolling the Bargin Bins at Bookstores

I am one of those people, like many others, that takes a long time to read a book. Mainly because I start one and then forget to pick it up for weeks. So, my readings block won't change that fast.

I also like to troll the clearance section of Christian bookstores. I never really buy anything from the stores, or even visit much. But the clearance sections are interesting mix of good and bad books.

If a book is a hit in the Evangelipopcology market place, they won't go into the bargain bin. Which is fine by me - I don't need to know how to kiss my date goodbye or twist God's arm to bless me with money. Whenever a book does make a splash, you can usually expect a large number of copycats. The better ones of these make a good splash themselves, but some of them bomb. These end up in the bargain bins. That is the bad - so bad that I get a good laugh out of reading their cover summaries. So, I guess it does end up being 30 seconds of entertainment.

The good is that when a book comes out that is too dense or quirky for the general public, it will also usually end up in the bargain bun. Those are the kind of books that I love to read. I just picked up a book that I am going to start reading recently on Jesus. Crazy, huh - a Christian bookstore book on Jesus? They can sometimes be rarer than you think. I can't remember who this one is by, but it takes all of the Gospels and combines them, and then the author added notes and side stories about the cultural atmosphere of the time. I'm sure some things will be off or wrong, but I look forward to getting this comprehensive picture. The Bible was written for people that lived in the time that it was written about, for people with a great understanding of the culture. The authors left a lot of explanation of the times out of there, basically because they had no need to explain it to their intended audience. I love reading anything that can restore that lost picture in my mind.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Following God Even When It Is Tough

This was part of a sermon I preached recently, but the podcast guy is really behind in getting the mp3 up. I was talking about following God even when He asks us to do something hard, or we don't see an obvious positive outcome, or things just look bad. I used a clip from Joan of Arcadia to illustrate the point. Joan of Arcadia was a television show where "god" appears to a teenage girl named Joan and asks her to do some tough things. Christians sometimes had a hard time with the show because "god" appeared as some weird people some times, and spoke in new-agey terms frequently. But if you got past the Yoda-isms of "god" in the series, they actually had some solid theology. Not always, but better than most shows in Hollywood do.

Anyway, here is the background to the clip I played:

"Joan is asked (by "god") to take a reclusive bully (Ramsey) to the school dance instead of her boyfriend (Adam). While both her mother and the assistant principal object, Joan follows through with God's task. At the dance, it is revealed the bully has a bottle of alcohol with him but Joan convinces him not to open it. Despite this the assistant principal later reaches into his jacket and, finding the alcohol, expels him. He runs away and Joan joins him. The bully goes to a secluded area and begins playing with a gun. Joan’s father, a police officer, is able to find the two and talk the bully away from the gun in a very dangerous and tense situation."

The next day, Joan sees "god" (as a lady handing out cupcakes) in the halls in school and decides to confront her about ruining Joan's life:



Our problem is, we don't get the nice TV wrap-up at the end. If we do the hard stuff that God asks us to, we may never know this side of heaven the impact that those choices had. We might only get to deal with the problems that come with the choice on our end. We may never know that our simple act of befriending the violent bully might have stopped the school shoot out. We might not ever know how taking a different exit on the way to work might stop an accident from happening. We might never know how sticking with church, even when it gets hard, or superficial, or confusing, might make the difference in someone else's life. Or even our own.

Monday, November 19, 2007

So We Visited One of Those Prosperity Mega Churches This Weekend

I've never heard the words 'blessing' and 'hallelujah' used so much in one sermon. To be fair, someone who used to go to this church said that it was just like an Antioch church (were we used to go to church when we lived in Wac0), and Antioch is pretty big, so we were hopeful that it wasn't a typical mega-church. That person was wrong about this church being like an Antioch church. Way off.

I'm no expert on prosperity Gospel stuff. I've always known that I generally disagree with it. And the the whole mega-church mentality.

As we enter into this massive building, we are pretty shocked by the amount of money that went into decorating the main hall. Neon signs, fancy stuff everywhere, tiled Baptismal pit (complete with free robes, towels, hair dryer, and heated water - we were told), and the stereo-typical coffee shop were all there. I took a quick glance at the prices in the coffee shop and decided to save some money and go to Starbucks later.

Anyway, to be honest - they did preach the Gospel, repentance of sins, and the need to die to self. But that seemed to be the sub-points in the main point of God blessing you with finances and happiness if you are faithful. It was the message given right before the offering that made us squirm.

Is there a new type of prosperity Gospel coming out now-a-days? There was a lot of true scripture being presented in there, but it was all sandwiched in with all kinds of "God is going to give you a lot of money and happiness" stuff in there. Like, A LOT of it. Should I really worry about the fact that they were all quoting scriptures correctly, but just over quoting ones about blessing, and kind of missing the whole point of what blessing means in the Bible?

I think many people would say not to judge and not to worry as long as the Gospel was presented. And to be honest, all churches are imperfect. Just having something wrong with your theology does not mean that the spirit of God will not be present and move in your midst. if that was true, He would never visit any churches.

But I gotta say - Katie and I couldn't find the exit door fast enough. Which is durn hard when you've got to fight past a thousand people making a B-line for the coffee shop.

I make light of the coffee shop a lot - but am I the only one that gets uncomfortable about the whole "den of thieves" thing? And when the pastor and his wife are wearing outfits that probably cost more than my entire wardrobe.... weird.

I gotta also ask about this whole "baptized in the Holy Spirit as evidenced by the speaking in tongues as seen in Acts 2:2-4." Acts 2:2-4 describes tongues of fire coming to rest on the believers - visible tongues of fire. Shouldn't it be "baptized in the Holy Spirit as evidenced by a visible tongue of fire and the speaking in tongues as seen in Acts 2:2-4"? Of course, I guess that means that most people wouldn't be baptized in the Holy Spirit. And that corrected statement doesn't roll off the tongue as easily....

Monday, November 12, 2007

Christian Artists: Giving Constructive Criticism

Recently, I have been in many online and in-person discussions about Christians and art, or more specifically - why there is so much bad Christian art out there. I would argue that, ultimately, there is just bad art out there period, and getting saved doesn't automatically sanctify lack of talent or taste. My reasoning for the fact that bad Christian art continues after salvation is that we have so many Christian liars out there. People that say they like something (painting, song, band, poetry, whatever) when they really don't think it's that great. Liar is a strong word, but I can't think of anything else to call it - so please try not to be offended by my use of it. More on that in a minute. First of all, a few things to set-up.

There are basically two types of Christian artists. First of all, there are those that make art for themselves. They don't intend to sell their art, get it displayed in galleries or played on the radio, etc. This is the kind of art that anyone participates in, and, in fact - I encourage everyone to do so. Being creative is something we can all do. If no on ever sees it - no need to be shy. The other type of artist is the one that tries to sell their art, even make a living off of it, or get it published, played, or displayed in public spaces. These are the ones I will refer to here from this point on as Christian Artists.

Once you cross that line from personal artist to Christian Artist, a whole new world has to open up for you. You no longer can just do what feels right to you. You have to be mindful of your audience. The opinion of others is crucial at this stage, because they are the ones that will ultimately support you. The opinions of other artists are helpful, but you still have to know the opinion of the audience. You have to connect with them.

This brings up the fact that there are three aspects of art that artists have to be concerned with. First, there is ability (skill, talent, etc). That is a given aspect, even if the artist doesn't have it. After that is the communication of the idea. Just having a lot of skill doesn't mean that you can communicate what is in your mind. And there are plenty of people out there that have found ways to communicate ideas in their head really well without any talent. The final aspect is the connection with audience. Having talent and the ability to communicate your ideas means nothing to the Christian Artist (or any professional artist) if you don't have the ability to connect with your audience. And, yes, there are those artists that don't have talent, do a bad job at communicating ideas, and yet still create stuff that connects with people.

This is also where many artists tend to take a "meh" attitude towards people that went to fancy, highly rated art/music schools around the world. These schools teach people the skills and the means to communicate ideas, but then students graduate from the school and go work for some catalog publisher. They have to do this because (possibly) they lack the ability to connect with an audience. Most artists would rather connect with an audience than perfect a skill.

Thus the rub of being a Christian artist. You need to know what others think of your work. Yes, you can pray and ask God and do what He wants regardless of what others think, but then there is that pesky deal of how God speaks to us through others.

This is why I encourage people to be honest when a Christian Artist asks for an opinion of their art, and you don't like it. I have been in many situations where people lied and said that they liked something and they really didn't (they admitted this to me later). They felt they were being "kind-hearted," but I argue that a lie is a lie and can cause damage.

You see, Christian Artists do believe that God speaks through others, and you never know if that "kind-hearted" word is the last word they get before they decide to do something radical, like quite jobs, or sell it all, and "go for it." I've know many people that actual do this (without praying - let's face it, we all do this from time to time), and since all of the feedback they got was "kind hearted," they missed God's will and crashed big time.

So, what to do when a Christian Artist asks for your opinion of something that you just don't like? Take a deep breath, and say four things:
  1. Let them know your credentials up front. If you have never studied art, music, poetry, etc, let them know it. They need that context to know how to file your opinion.
  2. Find something positive to say about the work/song/story/etc. For the Christian, this is usually the easiest part. Most Christian Artists mean well. It's not like they are out trying to subvert the word to serve the Anti-Christ. So, you can say something like "I can see that you had a good idea to show a spiritual truth here" or something like that.
  3. Give them an idea about what you didn't like about the art. You probably want to be as general as you can here, but not open yourself up to further questions (let's face it, you wouldn't be going this route if you didn't want to lay out a list of all the problems with the art or didn't care about hurting feelings). Let them know that you don't go for the genre; or, if that is a lie - let them know that you just don't connect with it.
  4. Encourage them to seek out more opinions. It may just be that you don't get the genre that they are working in. You could be the one that is wrong. Or you could be that last straw that lets them know whether to ditch the day job and go full time or not. Let them know that you should not be the last opinion they get.
In fact, I would argue that these four steps could be for giving feedback on art that you do like - just replace step three with giving them specifics on what you did like.

So, the way to give constructive feedback on, say, a painting that you don't like would be like this: "Well, please realize that I don't have any training in art. I like that you are communicating how prayer affects the world through this painting. For some reason, I just don't connect with the way that you are communicating, but I don't know exactly why. I think you should definitely seek the opinion of others on this and not just go by my word alone."

And, yes, I know artists are sensitive. They might still take this hard. Communicate with love and they will not feel rejected by you. Remember that above all - you still love the person, even if you don't go for the art.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Living in the End Times

We had a guest speaker at church this week who taught about the end times. I hadn't really thought about the end times in a while, so it got me thinking again. I used to love reading about end times stuff - I even read the entire Left Behind series. Sure, there was stuff in there that I disagree with, but I was interested in what they had to say.

One thing I have noticed about people that study or write about the end times - they all seem to think that no one else cares that much about their favorite topic. I think the sales numbers of the Left Behind stuff would speak otherwise.

Another thing I have noticed about this issue is how certain people act are totally correct on every aspect of the issue. I like what my pastor said about that this weekend: he said he has been reading about this issue for a few years, but still doesn't know that much. I think that is all that any of us can say. But so many people look in to the end times for a couple of years and then go around like they are the top expert on the subject. Not our guest speaker this weekend (she was pretty cool), but it's just something I have noticed around the Church in general.

You see, I know what I believe on controversial issues - like evolution, or predestination, or the rapture. But I know that I could end up being wrong on some of the details. So I try not to be so dogmatic about it. I strongly believe that some people are going to get to heaven and be disappointed to find the truth about what they were so dogmatic about. And find out how wrong they were.

I don't believe in the rapture, but I won't be shocked if it does happen. I believe in a literal 7 day creation, but won't be shocked to get to heaven and find out that the 7 days of creation were actually 7 epochs. I believe in once saved, always saved - but won't be upset if I get to heaven and find out I was wrong.

So, here's my deal about the end times. It's all based on prophecy. We have to be careful with prophecy. I think that Christians tend to get a little arrogant with interpreting apocalyptic prophecy because we got it right with Messianic prophecy. What some people forget is that even the disciples got it wrong until the book of Acts. Until Jesus ascends to heaven, we don't see a single apostle explaining to anyone how Jesus fulfilled Messianic prophecy. Jesus explained it a lot, but no one else really got it. It wasn't until Jesus died, rose again, and then ascended to heaven that the apostles finally had a light bulb go off in their heads. Then they started telling people how Jesus fulfilled the prophecies.

If Jerry Jenkins had lived in, say, 100 B.C., and decided to write a 12 book series that fictionalized the upcoming arrival of the Messiah, it would have ended up being totally different than what the Gospels ended up saying. It would have been about this conquering king that comes in and stomps out the Romans. That was how people interpreted the prophecies in Jesus day. And they were wrong.

They were basing those interpretations on their current mindset. You even see their misconceptions recorded in the Bible. "Nazareth? The Messiah doesn't come from Nazareth! He is to be born in Bethlehem!" is what they all said. In Jesus' time, people didn't move around that much. So, if you were to say "I'm Bob of Nazareth," they would assume you are from Nazareth. They never thought to consider that maybe Jesus was born somewhere else. And due to the slaughter of the infants that happened due to events in Bethlehem around the time of Jesus' birth, I am sure His parents didn't exactly advertise that He was born there.

So, we need to realize that Biblical prophecy will be fulfilled, but the track record shows that it will be fulfilled in a way that is totally off of everyone's radar. If the Bible says 70 years, it will be 70 years. But some of the details may not work out the way we say they will. So, I think some people need to take a less dogmatic approach to the whole thing, or they may miss it.

Another thing I want to speak out about is this whole living in the end times thing. Many people say that we are living in the end times, and that Israel becoming a nation again is a sign of that. I have to slightly disagree with this to a degree. I believe that God is setting the stage for the end times, but we aren't quite there yet.

Here is why: the Bible doesn't say that "Israel shall become a nation, and then the end shall come." Israel does play a part in end times prophecy, so it does have to exist for the end times to happen. So that is why I believe God is setting the stage. Jesus said "this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come" (Matthew 24:14).

The one thing that I am more into than end times stuff is world missions. And the sad fact is that missions are declining. Less people are going, less is being given, and even those agencies that are seeing increases in people going are not sending a large number of people to the unreached. Many people believe, as I do, that God will reverse these trends, bring down the bamboo wall, lift the veil of Islam, etc. But even these people realize that we still have a couple of centuries to go (at best estimates, 150-200 years) before "all nations" (usually understood as 'people groups' by those that know Greek) have heard the Gospel.

I pray that I am wrong. I pray that the great commission will be fulfilled within the next generation. But I can't let the end times be my primary motivation to live rightly here and now. I need to let the present needs of today be my motivation. "Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own" (Matthew 6:34).

Monday, November 5, 2007

More Money Equals Less Religion?

I thought this was a funny, but sad article:

A GLOBAL survey recently conducted by the Pew Research Center shows that the wealthier you are, the less likely you are to be religious.

Hmmmm.... food for thought.

Anyway, I am prepping two lengthy posts in my mind. I have some thoughts on the end times that I will put up soon (since that seems to be the current topic at church). I also want to post something on Christian artists.

Also, some day, I may get around to posting stuff on my views on the whole Calvinism vs. Arminism debate. If I ever get brave enough to go there :)

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

In India, Poverty Inspires People to Action

“In Redmond, you don’t see 7-year-olds begging on the street,” said Sean Blagsvedt (former Microsoft engineer).

This statement refers to the difference between the streets of India and the streets around Microsoft's headquarters in the US. A growing trend in India is that wealthy workers are seeing the poverty around them and are being moved to do something with technology to help these people.

Mr. Blagsvedt idea was to build a social networking site for poor street workers looking for employment. It seems that the rich complain about not having enough people to hire, and the poor complain about not having enough jobs. the problem was that there was no connection between the two. Mr. Blagsvedt answer? Technology!

The biggest problem was the fact that the poor don't have access to computers, and the rich don't want to trust just anyone they find online. So, the design of Babajob.com was to pay the people with computer access to set up profiles for good workers that they have found. Fairly ingenious. You can see the whole article here.

If you have ever read the Bible, especially the New Testament, you might have been struck by the idea that we are supposed to do something about poverty. I've always wondered why so few of us do that. Heck - I've wondered why I have a hard time doing anything. I think some of it has to do with the attitudes of the most visible poor: the corner beggars. I've gone and talked to a few of them, even offered to help them apply for jobs. They aren't interested in doing that. Now, I know that those people represent less than 5% of the actual poor out there. But they are the 5% that most of us ever get to deal with, so I am assuming that they are (unfortunately) influencing our national attitudes toward the poor. Why would we want to help those that just want a free hand out?

There has got to be a way to get something like this started here in the US. Some kind of site that links us needs with those willing to give. I am thinking mostly time here, and not money. I would love to go do something about poverty, if I could just find where to go on my free Saturday afternoons.

Monday, October 15, 2007

The Whole Gospel From All Angles

A recent post at the Thinklings, as well as a session that my wife taught at a retreat this weekend (Holistic Health), got me thinking about the Gospel. The whole Gospel. Most spiritual people, even if they don't follow Jesus specifically, tend to be able to tell you what they think the Gospel is.

The simple answer for most Christians is that the Gospel is the "Good News" of the gift of salvation through Jesus Christ. Some have been arguing that the Gospel is really something else - specifically, it is offering social justice to the oppressed. A few are slowly beginning to realize that it is both and even more.

A few months ago, my wife and I attended a "community health evangelist" training at our old church back in Waco. The session started off by looking at Jesus' mission statement. When Jesus began his public ministry, you see him in the temple reading a specific passage from Isaiah (chapter 61, verse 1, but I have included more here):
The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me,
because the LORD has anointed me
to preach good news to the poor.
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim freedom for the captives
and release from darkness for the prisoners (or the blind),

to proclaim the year of the LORD's favor
and the day of vengeance of our God,
to comfort all who mourn,

and provide for those who grieve in Zion—
to bestow on them a crown of beauty
instead of ashes,
the oil of gladness
instead of mourning,
and a garment of praise
instead of a spirit of despair.
They will be called oaks of righteousness,
a planting of the LORD
for the display of his splendor.

They will rebuild the ancient ruins
and restore the places long devastated;
they will renew the ruined cities
that have been devastated for generations.
Many people look at these verses from the spiritual angle. When He speaks of restoring sight for the blind, we think that God will give (in)sight to the spiritually blind. The interesting thing is, Jesus then went around physically healing the blind.

The intent of The Gospel was to minister to the whole person - physically, mentally, emotionally, socially, and spiritually. And we see this is so in the verse from Isaiah above (with a smattering of social justice thrown in for good measure). Take a look at this part of the scriptures from a non-spiritual angle:
  • "to preach good news to the poor": what is better news for the poor than to know that their oppression is gone? That they can be free from debt maybe? There's your social justice.
  • "He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted": healing our emotional wounds and issues.
  • "to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners": freedom from addictions (physical health), from oppressive relationships (social health), from destructive emotional conditions?
  • "to comfort all who mourn and provide for those who grieve in Zion... and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair": emotional comfort in tragic situations.
  • "They will rebuild the ancient ruins and restore the places long devastated; they will renew the ruined cities that have been devastated for generations": rebuild devastated communities, or even social relationships.
  • "And you will be called priests of the LORD, you will be named ministers of our God": even when looking at this scripture from a non-spiritual angle, there is still an obvious reference to addressing spiritual issues.
The interesting thing is that Jesus took this passage of scripture from both a spiritual and non-spiritual angle at the same time, and lived his life fulfilling both angles daily.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Song of Solomon

Want to hear something crazy? I am preaching a sermon this Sunday. I've done some preaching in my life, but the last time I did was in 2002 in India. I still do some public speaking at conferences and other places for work, so I won't be totally rusty, I just still wonder if I have a good lesson in me now.

The reason I wonder is that my church is going through the Song of Solomon right now. So I am working on something out of that. The deal with SoS is - I've never really had a problem with it. Many people do - they don't understand why it is in the Bible. And that's okay - most people have a book or two in the Bible that they have problems with. Martin Luther himself had problems with several books - James, Revelations, etc. So it's okay.

But for me, I've always been okay with SoS being in there - even if you think it is strictly a love poem. You see, I have (for a long time) believed that God is concerned with every part of our lives. If you take SoS out of the Bible - there is a huge part of married life (the romantic part) that is missing from the Bible. I mean -- what else do you have in there? Sampson and Delila? Hosea? Even David's stories aren't that romantic.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Blog Ecclesiastes, Chapter 6

7 All man's efforts are for his blog,
      yet his blog roll is never satisfied.

8 What advantage has a Word Press site
      over a Blogger account?
      What does a poor lurker gain
      by knowing how to conduct himself before other commenters?

9 Better what the eye sees
      than the roving of the aggregator.
      This too is meaningless,
      a chasing after the RSS feed.

10 Whatever exists has already been blogged,
      and what man is has been archived;
      no man can contend
      with one who writes longer comments than he.

11 The more the Google Ads,
      the less the blogosphere respect,
      and how does that profit anyone?

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

One of Life's Mysteries Solved

This hit me last night - an answer to one of life's biggest questions. (If this has been covered somewhere else, and I am just stealing someone else's idea here that I just can't remember.. I apologize). The big question:

"Which came first - the chicken or the egg?"

The answer is quite simple, but depends on if you are a creationist or an evolutionist. If you believe in creationism, then God created all animals first, so the chicken was created by God first, and then laid the first egg.

If you are an evolutionist, then you believe the egg came first. Basically, as an evolutionist, you would believe that animals evolve and change over time - either as small changes in DNA slowly cause the creature to change, or major mutations cause quick changes every now and then (punctuated equilibrium). So, at some point you had a creature that was part chicken, but was still technically a majority of something else (lizard, some other bird, whatever). Then, this creature has a mutated egg that slightly or quickly pushes the amount of chicken in it's genes into the majority column, and survival of the fittest dictates that the new chicken creature survives extinction, while the pre-chicken beast is killed off by mother nature. So, the egg came first.

Life's biggest question, answered. Where's my Nobel Prize?

----------------
Now playing: Ocean Blue - Ayn
via FoxyTunes

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Modern Day Warm and Well Fed

Scripture Reference: James 2

Something hit me this morning. I tend to look at James 2:16 as being something I can only do to homeless and poor people around me:

"If one of you says to him, "Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed," but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it?"

However, the whole point of the passage is to put your faith into practice, and to not just to mouth worthless clich├ęs to get away from someone else's sob story. It's not (just) about homeless people. So, with that in mind, I realized that there is a modern day equivalent to this verse:

"If one of you says to him, "Go, I wish you well; I'll pray for your need," but does nothing to help be an answer to that prayer, what good is it?"

Some prayer requests - especially for those that require physical healing - are beyond our ability to do anything about. But what about those that we can do something about? What if someone is feeling lonely? What if they are struggling with self doubt? What if they are in need of anything that we have the ability to do something about?

James goes on to say "do you want evidence that faith without deeds is useless?" Useless? Ouch. But... maybe... possibly.... is that why we pray for things for other people, and never see those prayers answered? Is it because we are supposed to be the answers, and our faithful prayer without deeds is turning up useless?

Take the loneliness issue for an example. People usually don't come out and say "I'm lonely." They just start saying things like "I am not feeling very connected with any of the people around here." I've heard many people say this - and have even said it myself plenty of times. The typical reaction is "well, I'll pray for God to send some marvelous comrades your way, brother/sister." Several weeks go by, and the person is still feeling "disconnected." And the other person probably is still praying fruitless prayers, or has forgotten the whole issue by now. Hello! Pick up the phone and give the person a call? Is that so hard? I often wonder why so many people are so reluctant to become the answers to their own prayers.

Friday, August 24, 2007

The Spirit That Changes Personality

The Fruit of the Spirit in Real Life, Part Two

Scriptural reference: Galatians 5:22-23

The fruit of the spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. We all want those qualities in our lives. I've always seen these qualities as a temporary spiritual situation. If I have a good quiet time in the morning... maybe get a full hour of intense prayer (assuming that Reverend Pillow doesn't hold me over too long with his night-time sermon of "Resting in the Lord")... and then - BOOM! - fruit! I'll have some peace in my life. Until I drive to work, someone cuts me off, and I honk at them in anger. So much for my peace for that day. Hopefully, I'll be spiritual enough tomorrow to get that peace again.

One thing that hit me the other day was that some of the fruits are personality traits: gentleness.... self control.... kindness. Then, I started to realize that they are all personality traits. The fruit of the Spirit in our lives is a changed personality that begins to resemble the personality of Jesus. It's not just some temporary actions that we can call up from time to time when are really being uber-spiritual. They are characteristics that can begin to describe our lives as we continually walk with God.

I can see two sides, or excuses, to this thought:
  1. "I am just blunt, loud, talkative, etc. I can't help it. It's just the way God made me." I say - Great! Being like this is not necessarily wrong. It's just that people who are blunt are usually also not very gentle about it. Those that are talkative are usually not very self-controlled about it. Those that are loud are not very peaceful about it. It is possible to be blunt and gentle - it's called telling the truth in love. Whatever your extroverted personality trait is - make sure it is surrounded in the fruit of the Spirit.

  2. "I'm not perfect, but I am peaceful, gentle, kind, etc. So I don't need to worry about this anymore." Galatians says that against the fruits of the Spirit there is no law. That means there is no limit... no saying "I've got this down - on to the next lesson!" There is always more fruit to be had - so keep seeking!
My life has been a testimony of how this is true. God willing, I'll get to that in Part Three.

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Now playing: Scott Bradley - Sanctuary
via FoxyTunes

Monday, August 20, 2007

Bridging the Gap Between Heart & Reality

The Fruit of the Spirit in Real Life, Part One

Scriptural reference: Galatians 5:22-23

Very rarely do people ever sit down and talk about what is wrong with anything. When it does happen, eventually you have to look at the problems that certain people are causing. If you were to say something like "so-and-so comes across as cold, uncaring, or not interested in other people," a typical response would be "but I think their heart is to be nice and welcoming to people." Both parties would agree to that, and go on.

I would really, really hate to hear that being said about me. Not the first part - where someone points out a problem that I have. I have them, and I need to hear them - so I need to get over it. What I would hate to hear would be the second part: "but I THINK their heart is _____." When I come to the end of my life, I don't want my heart to be in question. I want people to know beyond a shadow of a doubt what I felt in my heart. I want my heart to be my reality.

When we refer to someone's heart in this context, I think what we mean is "the person that they really want to be, if they weren't inhibited by habits, familiar patterns, or flat out sin." So, if there is a noticeable difference between what is in my heart and how I come across to people, I have a serious problem. There is a serious flaw in my wiring somewhere.

The problem that I see, in myself especially but also others, is that we seem to think that we are stuck with this flaw. And so, those long conversations that we have to have with people offended by our actions, the ones where we sit down and try to explain to the them what our heart really is, are going to be an inevitable part of life. Of course, once we get to the point of having one of those conversations, the hurt and damage are already done. The forgiveness and healing process, as slow as it can be sometimes, has to be set in motion. That is why I hate the theology of "it's better to ask for forgiveness than permission." Forgiveness can often be a long, painful process. We think that it is fine to be lazy and just not ask for permission in the first place?

I think the problem that leads to this flaw begins with a misunderstanding of the fruit of the Spirit. I think most people know what they are - but its the application that we tend to miss. So, God willing, that is what I will look at in Part 2.

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Now playing: Neon Cross - Frontline Life
via FoxyTunes

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

How Dangerous is a Piece of Paper?

I love India. My wife is half-Indian. The image used as the banner for this site was taken on a trip we took to India. But sometimes, their laws make no sense.

Take a recent incident in Kartanaka. A pastor and his wife were passing out Gospel tracts. Some people find these annoying, but like any literature - you can just ignore them. Someone saw the tracts, and attacked them. They were drug to the local police office, and charged with "inciting religious disharmony." They were sent to jail for a month for violating section 296 A of the Indian Penal Code.

Now, I am no legal expert, but wasn't it the person that attacked them in the first place that was the one who "incited religious disharmony?" He could have just ignored the tracts.

You see, the problem with India is that they are ruled by close-minded, undemocratic principles. I know they claim to be modern and democratic, but that is just a media propaganda front designed to placate the UN and major world governments. And they all accept it as true, without digging farther in to verify the claims. Every week I get e-mail reports on worldwide religious persecution, and every week they include multiple reports from India. To the UN, US, and other world powers - please open your eyes. Visit persecution.com for more information.

Thursday, August 9, 2007

Tired of Close-Minded Christians?

A common argument/excuse that I hear about why people don't want to go to church is that they don't want to be around close-minded or hypocritical people. They want to interact with open-minded people, but not Christians, because they are close-minded. Isn't that a close-minded statement though? It's like saying "I am open to anything that anyone has to say, except for this rather large group over here." That, in itself, seems like a close-minded contradictory statement. Kind of like the statement "there are NO absolutes."

More often than that, I frequently hear the hypocritical tag thrown around. Christians don't live what they believe, so we shouldn't listen to them - right? Well, right? Not quite. If your doctor smoked, would you ignore his advice about what is good for you? You could - but that would be dangerous for your health. We can gripe about hypocrisy all we want, but even though our doctor may not follow their own advice - it doesn't mean that they are clueless. They are probably telling us the right stuff. Somewhere along the line, the American culture has bought in to the lie that hypocrites are automatically wrong in everything they say, just because they are hypocritical. Of course, I could also go into how we are all hypocritical in some way, but that is another subject....

When people throw around the hypocrisy tag, what they are really saying is "I want to ignore what God is saying and blame it on his followers, even though by calling them hypocrites I am acknowledging that they are not doing what God would want them to, anyway."

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Christianity: Religion or Relationship?

"Christianity is not about religion, it's about relationship." Probably one of the evangelical church's most famous lines. Right up there with WWJD, FROG, etc, etc, (insert your favorite bumper sticker slogan here). Last week, I counted at least 5-10 times that I heard that statement come out of someone's mouth at church (and the person that I know to say it the most was out of town).

The problem with that statement is that I don't exactly find it in the Bible. In fact, some passages seem to contradict that. Take James 1:26-27, for example. It speaks of pure religion. Wait a second - religion can be pure? Pure, as in, holy?

My friend Chris (who hates blogs and will never read this) pointed out that Christianity is not about religion or relationship - it's about Jesus. Very true point - totally accurate. So, the real argument is probably about whether we classify how we follow Jesus as a religion or a relationship.

I recently came across an article online called Is Christianity a Religion? It was written by a Catholic person (still can't find their name) as they were examining the evangelical church's fascination with "it's all about relationship!" theology. The article is a really good perspective from a non-evangelical voice. I don't agree with everything in the article, but some excellent points are raised:
'Yes, God established a rather complex religion, complete with ceremonies, clergy, heirarchy and plenty of "do's and dont's". But He never intended it as a substitute for a relationship with Him. Rather, the ancient Israelite religion was meant to be an expression of their covenant relationship with God. The Lord does not seem to see an innate conflict between "religion" and "relationship".'
An interesting thought - even if it is hard for us in the evangelical church to read through that without the "Gospel of Works!" flag going off in our mind. Let's not forget for a second that legalism is not just works but doing works to gain favor with God. If you do the works out of obedience and love - it's not legalism. In fact, I would submit that you can never observe a person and determine from the outside whether or not they are being legalistic. Whether you are doing some works to gain favor with God, or because you love Him and want to be obedient to Him - you are probably going to do the same actions on the outside. You might grumble and be miserable in your heart if you are just trying to gain favor - but that is easy enough to hide from others.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Social Action For the Common Person

Lately, my wife and I have really been pondering and praying over the issue of social justice. Well, my wife has always been thinking about it, since she is working on a PhD in Community Health Education and all. But lately, I've been noticing that everything I get involved in has something to do with Health Education. Maybe God is trying to tell me something....

I even went to a Community Health Evangelist training session recently. One of the thoughts that really stirred me was the concept of Jesus' vision statement. He had one - the one that He began His ministry with:
"The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to preach good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to release the oppressed,
to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor." (Luke 4:18-19 NIV)
This passage refers to spiritual as well as physical interpretations (even though most sermons I have heard focus on the spiritual interpretation). The big question for me is: how can I do any of this?

The problem being that I work full time in the educational technology field. That is what I feel called to do, but it seems like ministering to the poor has to be your full time vocation. My free weekends are scattered. So, I can't sign up for something that happens every Saturday, because I might have to miss from time to time. My rational brain thinks that there is nothing to be done to help the poor at night, because they have already had dinner.

I wish there was some type of resource that just lists ministries and opportunities in my community that anyone can jump in and serve as they can. Say, I have nothing to do Thursday night, and I look up my city on Thursday night and see where I can minister to the poor. Great idea for a website, but I wonder if it would work.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

The Problem With The Church Today

Our churches today have a big problem. It doesn't matter if they are modern or traditional, charismatic, emerging, diverging, small, or large - they all have this problem. This problem existed in 50s, as well as in the Reformation, as well as in the time of Paul.

The Church is broken.

Yep. It's busted, messed up, crazy, weird, silly, whack, out of joint, etc. You name it. The Church is just that. And even worse. You probably have no idea how broken it is. I don't mean spiritually broken. I mean it is just not working right.

And that happens to be just the way it needs to be.

You see, the perfect church has no need of God. The church without problems has all of the answers. All of the ducks are in a row. In fact, some of the ducks are probably MIA. There's no need for God. We are going to be in eternal need of fixing. There's no way around it.

That is also part of the adventure. God is calling us to join him in his redemptive work. Oh, yes - those that don't know Him are the ones that need that redemptive work the most. But so are those that already know Him. The great adventure comes in realizing that we all get to join God in his grand plan to fix the brokenness that exists everywhere - including inside of the church. Including inside of us.

It's not always fun. It requires us to sacrifice all, so that we might gain this repair. And we might give up from time to time. But the call is never revoked just because we occasionally lose heart. Or - if you are like me - you lose heart more often that you seem to gain it. Like, every other hour it seems. Thankfully, the One that extends the call never ceases to forgive our weak hearts.

Welcome to the Table

Why "The Beggar's Table"? Because, really - we are all beggars. We are all in a place of great need. We may not need food or clothes or a roof over our heads, but we all need a savior. Something greater than ourselves to answer those deep yearnings of our heart. Even the spiritual greats of our time, like Mother Teresa, recognized their needs.

So, what do I plan on blogging about? We do I believe in? What is my denomination affiliation? Well, join me to find out. I can say that I will blog about God, Jesus, Church, world religions, current events, social justice, and probably post some of my artwork here. But who knows what else I will dive in to.