Thursday, December 27, 2007
I've been out of circulation for a while, what with Christmas services, tryptophan-induced naps, and overdosing on eggnog. But I'm back now, and rearing to go. By the way, what does that mean anyway--"rearing to go"? I think it must be some kind of equestrian reference, but I'm not sure.
In my recent reading I have come across several articles that show evangelical Christians in a very negative light. This to me is a serious issue, and it gets me hopping mad. Of course, I do not really expect the world to like us. Jesus warned His disciples that the world would, in fact, hate them. That has proven true down through the centuries.
However, I'm an eternal optimist and I keep holding out hope that we will at least win their begrudging admiration. I keep wanting to believe that non-Christian people will see some consistency between our walk and our talk and start to connect up the dots to see that evangelical Christians have something worth investigating.
The problem is that there are lots of very visible bad examples on so-called "Christian television," and those wing-nuts and moon-bats end up giving every Christian a black eye. The world has a hard time sorting out the wheat from the chaff when the chaff have their own TV shows on TBN, and they call themselves, "evangelical Christians." Makes me never want to use that word again to describe myself.
This is a comedy clip that you may or may not laugh at. It's funny, because it is so ridiculous. But it is sad, too, because these people have millions of brain-dead believers who keep them on the air by sending in their nickels and dimes. I think it's time to starve them out and get them off the air. That's my opinion, for what it's worth.
Still crazy, but not crazy enough to send any of these crooks any money.
Monday, December 17, 2007
Today our son, Chris, sent me a text message that simply read, "It's a girl!" He and Luciana had just left the clinic where they found out the gender of their baby. They were both very excited. Lu is due to deliver the little bundle of joy on April 27th. This is happy news for our whole family, because we are weighted heavily on the male side right now. Making it even better, our daughter, Simoni, is also carrying a little girl, and she is due to be born on February 12th. What fun! Two little girls showing up within two and a half months of each other. Josh and Simoni are thinking of calling their little girl Michaela Renée, but haven't decided for sure. Chris and Luciana don't have a name picked out yet, but I'm sure they will be combing through the name books to find a good one.
But what's in a name anyway? In many ancient cultures and in some cultures still today the name given to a child is very important. It represents the hopes and dreams of the parents for that child, and serves as a picture of what they hope the child will become. In western culture, however, we have largely lost this concept. People in this country especially, choose names more for the pleasing sound or the rarity of the name, wanting their kid to have a moniker that is distinctive. Failing that, they play around with the spelling of the name, coming up with something so oddball that it will complicate the poor kid's life all the way to the grave.
But I think we need to be more careful about the names we give to our children. I think we need to give them names that they can grow into--names with real meaning.
When I was born my mother named me Michael. It comes from the Hebrew name מִיכָאֵל (Mikha'el) which means, "who is like God?". This is the name of one of only three angels actually mentioned in the Bible, and the only one specifically identified as an archangel. (The other two angels named are, of course, Gabriel and Lucifer, who we usually call Satan.) In the Book of Revelation in the New Testament Michael is portrayed as the leader of Heaven's armies, and thus is considered the patron saint of soldiers. Nine Byzantine emperors and a czar of Russia bore his name.
My mother and I both almost died while she was carrying me in her womb. In spite of the fever, when I was born without brain damage or birth defects it seemed to her to be a fitting name. While I was growing up she often reminded me that I was a gift from God, and that she had offered me back to God to serve Him all the days of my life. That has always stuck with me, though I have often failed to live up to that high standard.
There is a verse in the Bible that has always intrigued me. It is found in Revelation 2:17, "He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes, I will give some of the hidden manna. I will also give him a white stone with a new name written on it, known only to him who receives it." This verse has puzzled commentators for centuries. But I believe that what the apostle John was saying is that when we get to Heaven and stand before the Lord, He is going to call us by a new name, a name that reflects who we truly are in His sight.
Many people hate their given names and are forced to go through life with handles they would have never chosen for themselves: Irving, Herbert, Agnes, Tiffany, Percival, SummerDawn, Edith, Archibald, Burgandy, Billy Bob, etc. But when Bubba finally kneels down before King Jesus, the Savior is going to press into his hand a beautiful white stone on which is engraved a name, a new name, a beautiful and powerful name, a name that tells how Jesus sees him on the inside. That name will have meaning. It will bring joy, not embarrassment. It will be the name Jesus will use every time he meets Bubba on the streets of Heaven. He will lean over and whisper in Bubba's ear, "My son, you are ________, and you are Mine." Bubba's face will light up every time it happens. At least, that's what I think the verse means.
One thing is for sure--the Lord knows the names of all those who belong to Him. He has our names memorized. And the Bible says that our names are inscribed in the Lamb's Book of Life. At the end, when the angels check the long lists of names they may have trouble pronouncing some of them. They may stumble over Giuseppa, Franstziska, Bhaskara, Themistocles, and Ruairidh. That's OK. Jesus is going to give each of us a new name anyway.
Crazy...especially about little baby girls,
Saturday, December 15, 2007
This video is by the Christian group, Go Fish. They sing a lot of acappella music and also do a lot of kids' concerts, but this is a wild, toe-tapping, flag-waving song that I really liked. I hope you like it too. Turn your speakers up real loud and get ready to boogie to the music! For you who do not have high speed internet service, I know it bugs you to have me put up a video because it takes so long to load. Believe me, I understand. I have dial-up service at home. But what you do... start the thing downloading, go in and fix yourself a nice strong cup of Earl Gray tea, watch TV for a while, and then come back and watch this video. It's worth the wait.
Crazy about you, America, the flag, and kids
Friday, December 14, 2007
Many people who use the quotation in the title of this posting do not know that it comes right out of the Old Testament book of Hosea, chapter 8 verse 7. It basically means that the evil we sow in this life will come back on our heads and result in a harvest of evil. The apostle Paul says the same thing in Galatians 6:7, "Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, this he will also reap." This is a divine principle, an eternal truth not bound by time, place, or circumstance. Moreover, I believe it applies to nations as well as to individuals.
I subscribe to an Internet newsletter called the Church Leaders Intelligence Report. It often has interesting and usful pieces of information. Here is a brief article about China that I found enlightening:
China has too many men. Today, roughly 120 boys are born in China for
every 100 girls, perhaps the worst gender imbalance in modern human history.
Within 15 years, the country may have 30 million men who cannot find
wives. Households have preferred male children because men are viewed as
better able to support rural families, and boys inherit the land.
Infanticide has often resulted. China's one-child policy motivates couples
to abort until they have a boy. This will turn China, by 2030, into a
grayer society than the U.S. Single young men are far more likely to commit
violence than their married peers. Even young criminals often give up
crime when they marry and settle down. Today China is experiencing rising
crime waves. Cities with the most unbalanced sex ratios have some of the
highest crime rates. China's State Population and Family Commission admits
“the increasing difficulties men face in finding wives may lead to social
instability.” (Taken from the Church Leaders Intelligence Report,
compiled and edited by Gary D. Foster. Original article from LA Times, 10/21/07.)
It seems to me that this article provides us a perfect illustration of the principle found in Hosea 8:7 and Galatians 6:7. China is reaping the whirlwind. They have been murdering baby girls for years. With their one-child policy and their forced abortions they have slaughtered millions upon millions of their most innocent and most helpless citizens. But they are not the only ones. India is in the same boat. According to a recent report by the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) up to 50 million girls and women are missing from India' s population as a result of their systematic gender discrimination. In most countries in the world, there are approximately 105 female births for every 100 males. In India however, there are less than 93 women for every 100 men in the population. The accepted reason for such a disparity is the wide-spead practice of female infanticide. They simply murder their baby girls. By avoiding a girl, a family will avoid paying a large dowry upon her marriage. According to UNICEF, the problem is getting worse as scientific methods of detecting the sex of a baby and of performing abortions are improving.
But in this country, the good ol' US of A, have we not done the same thing? Since the Roe V. Wade decision came down to us from the Supreme Court on January 22, 1973 we have been murdering babies (boys and girls) by the millions. In fact, while the number of abortions nationwide is reported to be on the decline, the total figure of abortions since the landmark 1973 ruling continues to climb and is expected to reach 50 million by 2008. Did you hear me? 5o MILLION! There are many countries in the world that do not have 50 million citizens. Let's think of a few:
South Africa 48,577,000
South Korea 48,512,000
It hurts me to say it but this nation, in my never to be humble opinion, is as guilty before God as the worst genocidal regimes in history. Hitler murdered six and a half million. Stalin murdered 39 million. Pol Pot slaughtered about 2 million Cambodians. But we have murdered nearly 50 million BABIES, for crying out loud. If God does not judge this nation for our sins then He will have to apologize to a few other countries that He utterly destroyed for their wickedness.
Maybe I sound like a fanatic to you. I admit it! I am a fanatic about this. I may not be able to do much to stop the slaughter, but I refuse to be quiet about it.
Crazy with righteous anger over the killing of the babies,
Thursday, December 13, 2007
Let's remind one another throughout this Christmas season that it's all about the cross.
Loving Jesus and you,
Wednesday, December 12, 2007
I've been very busy but brain-dead, so haven't taken the time to write. Sorry about that.
However, this morning I was reading in Isaiah 40:29-31, "He [God] gives strength to the weary, and to him who lacks might He increases power. Though youths grow weary and tired, and vigorous young men stumble badly, yet those who wait for the Lord will gain new strength; they will mount up with wings like eagles, they will run and not get tired, they will walk and not become weary."
So what the heck am I doing wrong? I haven't been doing a lot of "mounting up" lately. I get winded just from walking. And I'm pooped from running! If life is a race I feel like I'm always at the back of the pack looking at everyone else's south side. I'm breathing heavily, my chest feels tight, my legs are like rubber, and yet I'm running as fast as I can.
So what's wrong? Looking back over this passage I think I may have found the answer. It's in verse 31: "Yet those who wait for the Lord will gain new strength." That must be it! But what does it mean to "wait for the Lord"? I hate waiting...for anybody, even God. I want what I want right now!
I suspect however that there is a deeper meaning here. I have a hunch that the psalmist was trying to say the same thing when he wrote Psalm 46. Let me dip in there for a minute: "God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear... The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our stronghold... Come, behold the works of the Lord... Cease striving [KJV= "be still"] and know that I am God." I think that sometimes I forget that life is not a sprint but a distance race. It is not about burning out for the Lord, or beating anyone else to the finish line, but about finishing strong, right alongside my Team Captain, Jesus.
"Wait for the Lord." Maybe this life race isn't about how fast I run, but how well. Maybe I'm tired because I'm running faster than the pace car that Jesus is driving. Maybe I need to slow down and smell the flowers more. Maybe I need to worry more about being a godly man and less about accomplishing more stuff in 24-hours. Hmm...could it be?
The apostle Paul talked about his race in his last letter, II Timothy 4:7, "I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course [race], I have kept the faith." He finished strong, too. But he wasn't a sprinter. He just kept at it, jogging along with Jesus day after day. He tried to stay in step with the Spirit, not running ahead or lagging behind.
"Cease striving and know that I am God." I've discovered that I'm a striver, always striving to be the best, the fastest, the most efficient, the biggest producer. My daughter, Simoni, tells me almost every day, "Dad, don't work so hard. Relax. Go take a walk." I think she may be on to something.
Lord, please help me to stop striving. Help me to learn to wait on You. Keep reminding me that life isn't about filling my days with activity, busy work, but about seeking to know You, whom to know is life eternal. Help me to stop substituting busyness for meaningful, lasting things. In the end it's all about knowing You, and enjoying You forever. Help me to keep jogging along at a steady pace, fast enough to make progress, but slow enough that You and I can still talk along the way.
Crazy, but still moving forward
Friday, December 7, 2007
I kid you not, we have a rat problem at our church. I've known it now for a few days. Two Sundays ago early in the morning when I was opening up the buildings I heard something scurrying around in the ceiling of the annex room. It sounded way bigger than a mouse but I didn't know what it was. Then this past Sunday I went in there and flipped on the lights and there was the hairy monster sitting there staring at me. He's a honkin big wharf rat with a body about 10 inches long and a tail about the same length. I quickly went looking for something to clobber him with, and when I came back he was still there, waiting for me, daring me to do anything. I took a swipe at him but missed, and he took off running and hid under a couch.
We've had traps out for him all this week but so far he has managed to steer clear of them. But I know the furry little bugger is still in there because he is leaving his "calling cards" all over the place. In one sense I feel sorry for him. It's cold and wet outside and here we have this cozy place out of the weather, with food for the taking. It's a great gig for a rat. But he is not welcome. We don't want him here, and are determined to get rid of him one way or the other. We can do it the easy way or the hard way, if you catch my drift; the choice is up to him.
Now for the spiritual part. In the Bible we are told to go and learn from the ant. And Jesus constantly told stories using ordinary things to teach eternal lessons. This morning I was thinking about that darned rat and realized that he is kind of a picture of sin in my life.
He showed up without being noticed at first. I don't know how he got in. There must be a gap somewhere, a hole where he gained access. That's how sin works too. We have gaps, unguarded places in our lives, where sin can get in and gain a foothold. We have to be careful, always vigilant, mindful that sin can get in through what seems like a very small opening.
He's dirty. Rats urinate constantly. They leave stinky little scent trails wherever they go. And they leave their little poop footballs all over the place. Sin is dirty too. The Bible speaks of sin in such terms as, "impurity, unrighteousness, iniquity, wickedness, and filthiness." Sin is ugly and nasty from where God sits. I think I need to begin taking it more seriously too.
Rats destroy whatever they get close to. This rat chewed and scratched his way into a closet where we keep foodstuffs. Everything will have to be washed and a lot of stuff will have to be thrown away. Sin is destructive too. It eats away at us from the inside, in the quiet and in the dark. It gnaws and chews and destroys whatever it gets close to. I think one of the reasons why God hates sin so much is that He knows how destructive it is in the lives of His children. Because He loves us so much, He hates anything that injures us in any way.
Rats are embarrassing too. I was reluctant at first to tell anyone about the problem. Last Sunday morning all through the adult Sunday School class I kept staring at the couch behind John Wold, the teacher. What neither he or his class knew was that the rat was under that couch, sitting there looking out at us with his little beady eyes. I'm just thankful he didn't scurry out and scare the bejeebers out of the little old ladies. But sin is also an embarrassment, or it should be. Unfortunately, many times Christians seem content to do nothing about sin in their lives, and even try to justify its presence, even though it always destroys stuff and leaves stink trails and poop balls.
The Bible says in Proverbs 14:34, "Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a disgrace to any people." Sin is a disgrace, it is an embarrassment, it is shameful. We need to see it that way so that we begin to develop an intolerance toward its presence in our lives. I'm embarrassed that we have a rat problem at our church. I don't want anybody to know about it. And I'm committed to root the nasty critter out of there, dead or alive. We need to have this same intolerant attitude toward sin in our lives.
Well, that's enough preaching.
Here's a little something that I thought was cute. I'm so glad that I was born into an English speaking family because I don't think I have enough brains to learn this stupid language the way immigrants do. Check this out.
The Wild and Wacky English Language
We’ll begin with a box, and the plural is boxes;
But the plural of ox became oxen, not oxes.
One fowl is a goose, but two are called geese,
Yet the plural of moose should never be meese.
You may find a lone mouse or a nest full of mice;
Yet the plural of house is houses, not hice.
We take English for granted. But if we explore its paradoxes, we find that quicksand can work slowly, boxing rings are really square, and a guinea pig is neither from Guinea, not is it a pig.
How can a slim chance and a fat chance be the same, while a wise man and wise guy are opposites? You have to marvel at the unique lunacy of a language in which your house can burn up while it burns down, in which you fill in a form by filling it out, and in which an alarm goes off by going on.
Why is it that writers write, but fingers don’t fing, grocers don’t groce, and hammers don’t ham?
Some more reasons to be grateful if you grew up speaking English:
The bandage was wound around the wound.
The farm was used to produce produce.
The dump was so full that it had to refuse more refuse.
He could lead if he would get the lead out.
Since there is no time like the present, he thought it was a good time to present the present.
At the Army base, a bass was painted on the head of a bass drum.
I did not object to the object.
They were too close to the door to close it.
After seeing the tear in the painting, I shed a tear.
How can I intimate this to my most intimate friend?
Crazy about killin' rats,
Tuesday, December 4, 2007
A good friend sent me this prayer. It touched my heart. I hope it touches yours.
Dear Heavenly Father, help me remember that the "jerk" who cut me off in traffic last night may have been a single mother who worked nine hours that day and was rushing home to cook dinner, help with homework, do the laundry and spend a few precious moments with her children.
Jesus, help me to remember that the pierced, tattooed, disinterested young man this morning at Seven-Eleven who couldn't make change correctly is a worried 19-year-old college student, balancing his apprehension over final exams with his fear of not getting his student loans for next semester.
Remind me, Lord, that the scary looking bum, begging for money in the same spot every day (who really ought to get a job!) is a slave to addictions that I can only imagine in my worst nightmares.
Father, help me to remember that the old couple walking annoyingly slow through the store aisles and blocking my shopping progress are savoring this moment, knowing that, based on the biopsy report she got back last week, this will be the last year that they get to go shopping together.
Heavenly Father, remind me each day that, of all the gifts You've given me, the greatest gift is Your love. Help me remember that it is not enough just to share that love with those I hold dear. Open my heart to share Your love, not just with those who are close to me, but to all with whom I come in contact. Let me be slow to judge and quick to forgive, showing patience, empathy, and love.
For Jesus' sake, Amen.
This time of year is especially challenging for us to keep our perspective. The streets are packed. The malls are overcrowded. The stores are loud. The lines are long. It's like a huge commercial feeding frenzy. But in the middle of all of this craziness is the truth...That God loved us so much that He sent His Son to Bethlehem, to be born of the virgin, to become flesh and dwell among us so that we could see up close and personal the glory, and the mercy, and the love of God. That is the miracle of Christmas--God with us, Emmanuel.
Still loving you,
Monday, December 3, 2007
It's Monday morning. The weekend is over. Now it's back to work, back to the office. I came in this morning with the intention of going through and sorting out a bunch of stuff that has piled up on my desk and a few other places. I read somewhere that you should always sort through your mail from a standing position. As you look at each piece of mail you are to determine right there and then what to do with it. If you know darn well that it's junk mail you should immediately throw it in the recycling can. If it is important and needs attention, do it immediately, before sitting back down at your desk. This is a way to force yourself to deal with things as they come up--bang, pow, it's over.
Sounds good, but I am a ponderer. Having just a touch of OCD (Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder) I agonize over ever stupid piece of mail. In the end, in frustration, I lay the mail back down in a pile telling myself that I'll look at it again later when I'm in a better frame of mind to make a decision about it. That's what's known as "mental gymnastics." And it's not just mail that piles up, either. It's all kinds of stuff--sermons I've preached that need to be filed, great articles that I can't bear to throw away, Leadership Journal magazines that I plan to read, newspaper clippings that people hand me, copies of music that need to go back in the file cabinet, etc. It's nuts!
That's not all. I have a couple of shelves full of notebooks from conferences or seminars I've attended. Some of them are overflowing with wonderful, inspiring, soul-stirring material, powerful stuff, that I'm sure I'll use some day. On top of that I have a couple of large file cabinets--one with three deep drawers, the other with two--both full of wonderful information that I seldom or never look at, but that I tell myself I'll need some day. Can you relate to any of this?
And books...don't even get me started on books. I have books that I will never read, never use. But I love books, and can't bear the thought of getting rid of them. I already had a very large theological library. Then, after my dad died, I inherited his books too. I gave a bunch of books away then, but it nearly killed me, and I kept way more of his books than I should have. They are currently sitting in boxes in the room next to my office because I don't have enough shelf space to put them out. But even if I did, I probably wouldn't use most of them either. They would just sit there gathering dust like most of the books and other junk that already owns me.
Where am I going with this sad confession? I am coming to realize that most of us humans spend most of our lives either looking back at the past or trying to second guess what's coming in the future. We aren't so good at living in the present, enjoying the moment, making the most of who and what we have right now. For example, my filing fetish is about not wanting to lose something that I worked so hard on in the past ( my sermons, articles I've written, meeting minutes, planning sheets, etc.). Something in me makes me want to preserve that junk, though I know in my heart of hearts that most of it just ain't that good. On the other hand, I also file stuff I might possibly need in the future (illustrations, great stories, funny emails people send me, etc.). The sane part of my brain, however, tells me that I almost never dip into that stuff anyway, and that now with the Internet I can get more information than I can use with one click of a mouse, any time, from any place on the planet.
I want to learn to live more in the here and now, the only piece of time that I own, that I have any control over. The past is gone. I have some snapshots and some memories, but I can't change anything. The past is a done deal. Likewise, the future is yet unwritten, a blank scroll. I have some hopes, some dreams, some desires. But the future is in God's hands. Every beat of my heart, every breath I take in is a gift from Him, and He has already determined my timeline. It doesn't make any sense to worry about tomorrow.
But I have right now, today. Today I can tell people that I love them. Today I can encourage someone, and tell him how much he or she means to me. Today I can share with someone about God's love. Today I can do one of the tasks I have been putting off. Today I can spend some time talking with God and getting reacquainted with Him. Today I can write a letter to a far off friend telling them what their friendship has meant to me over the years. Today I can take a walk and enjoy God's handiwork.
It's been nice visiting with you. If you will excuse me though, I have some things that I want to do today. I think I'll start by tackling that pile of mail. I may throw out some of those old seminar notebooks too. And I'm going to fill up a couple of boxes with books to give away to someone who might use them.
Crazy, but cheerful