Tuesday, February 28, 2006

fat tuesday info

Today (the day before Ash Wednesday) is known as Fat Tuesday. I just found out from my friend Luke's blog that Fat Tuesday has its origins in Christianity. Check out his blog about Fat Tuesday by clicking here.

tomorrow's an important day

Tomorrow is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of the season of Lent. The season of Lent was used in the early church as a time of fasting and examination for people who had converted to Christianity. It was the final stage of preparation before they were baptized on Easter Sunday.

Tomorrow I will begin posting a daily Lenten devotional on this website. It is called "Living at a Higher Plain," and will go through the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7).

This is kind of an experiment, because I'm still writing the devotionals. I have 13 written so far. I hope that it will be an interactive devotional, meaning that people (you) will post their thoughts and prayers in the comment section. Feel free to post as "anonymous" if you have prayer concerns that you don't want to put your name on.

Because I may make other postings on this post-methodist blogsight, I am going to have a separate blog, Living at at Higher Plain, which will have just the daily devotionals on them.

Hope you get off to a good start tomorrow on Ash Wednesday.

On another note: Pray that Britney Spears survives Mardi Gras. She's a mother now, you know!

Monday, February 27, 2006

talking to instead of about

Last year, we did a sermon series based on Adam Hamilton's book Confronting the Controversies. One of the sermons was about the issue of homosexuality.

Since we publicized the sermon series, a woman who is a lesbian sent us a letter asking that we be compassionate in dealing with the topic. She referred us to a website that is says its "An Online Magazine for Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender Christians." The website can be found at www.whosoever.org.

Just for the facts, I believe that the Bible speaks against sexual intercourse between people of the same gender. Therefore, I cannot support the ordination of people who want to engage in this activity, or a "holy Christian marriage" between two people of the same sex.

However, at this website there is a wealth of information about how people who identify themselves as homosexual address the scriptures which speak to this issue. They believe that the scriptures do allow them to engage in this lifestyle and be Christians too.

Even better than the website, I got a chance to sit down with this woman and hear her story and about her walk with God. Did she change my mind about what I believe the scriptures say? No. Did she change my attitude toward people I have tended to demonize and judge? Yes.

The best thing I discovered from studying this issue, using that website, and dialoguing with this woman is that my heart was transformed when I spent time talking to a homosexual who considers herself Christian, rather than just talking about homosexuals who consider themselves Christians.

I still feel that while we must never give up the authority of Scripture for the sake of pleasing others. Now, I also feel never we must never give up the compassion of Christ for the sake of defending our position.

Sunday, February 26, 2006

holy moments

A few hours ago I got back from a weekend retreat that another adult and I took 8 eighth graders on. It was for kids who are going through Confirmation class. There was somewhere around 60 kids from different churches there.

I'm not one who really enjoys outings away from my family, but I was really encouraged and blessed by this group. I slept in a room with three boys from my church. Friday night we stayed up talking about heaven, hell, Judaism, Catholicism, Jesus and salvation. As I lay in the dark chatting with them as we all were in our different bunk beds, I felt so honored by God to be able be a part of Christ's life in the world today.

During worship times, the director of the retreat would have different adults give their testimonies. I got to share how I used to be a drug addict, alcoholic, promiscuous, ashamed, and destroyed. And I got to share how Jesus' love laid hold on my broken soul and starting giving me a life I never imagined I could have. It was a great reminder for me that I haven't always been a pastor and Bible maniac. I was lost and got saved by Jesus' finished work on the cross for me.

After I spoke about how I couldn't get myself cleaned up without God's intervention in my life, a young girl came up to me and asked me if I had ever cut myself. I said, "No, I was never a cutter. It wasn't that popular when I was younger. How about you?"

She said she had once gone a month without cutting herself, and most recently she had gone a week and a half. We prayed together before we left, and I asked God to help her stop and start loving herself and finding help in him. You could pray for her to if you like. Again, I was so honored that God let me be a part of something as holy as this girl sharing her fears and concerns with me.

Besides this stuff, it was just great to spend the weekend with the other pastors and leaders and hear their stories, and to just be with the wonderful kids from our church. They are a great group. I really hope that they don't give up on God as they grow up. (It happens pretty often, you know.)

Sometimes being a follower of Jesus just really feels good. It feels good today.

Friday, February 24, 2006

facts and questions about the email lie

Today after lunch I went by the gas station that was spoken of in the email lie post just below this one. When I received the email on Wednesday, I was uncertain that it was a legitimate story. Some seemed to have little doubt that it was legitimate. Others thought it needed to be examined.

When I got out of my car at the gas station, another religious leader in town was walking in to talk to the people at the gas station too. It was an interesting visit.

The first thing the young worker said to us was, "I don't know who you are (addressing my friend), but I know that you (looking at me) are the mayor." I was kind of flattered, not because I think Scott McCoy is better looking than me, but just because for a minute he took me really seriously.

I explained that I was just one of the pastors at the Methodist Church. The young man explained to us that the email stories were 100% false, and that the owners of the gas station were not even Pakistani. They were Indian. This young caucasion man suggested that this may have been an attempt to insult his boss because many people know that India and Pakistan don't get along.

The young worker also said that the story would be run in the Daily Leader (it's on the front cover of today's edition), the Pantagraph, and on the a few local news stations. As I was pulling out, another news team from a TV station was pulling in.

I am saddened by the fact that someone would spread this email lie. In doing so, they insulted our own military men and other American citizens (the gas station owners).

Questions I'm asking are:
- Was this a hate crime against members of another ethnic group?
- Was this a hate crime against members of our military?
- Was this an attempt by an anonymous writer to make a guy named "Mick" look like a racist?
- Was this an evil attempt to gather a mob that would do violence to other citizens or just a rumor that got out of control?
- Why were we so eager to forward this message all over the place without questioning the legitimacy of the story?
- Will the writer come forward and accept responsibility for this falsehood?
- Will business at this gas station increase, decrease, or stay the same?
- Should we expect more of this type of thing?

email lie

I received this email on Wednesday, February 22, as did many people throughout Pontiac. The truth of the information it contains has been pronounced a falsehood by the owners and employees of the store.

this has been confirmed by several people that I know. I am not happy about this and will find a way to help this become public knowledge to all in Pontiac area.
Mick

As some of you may know the Marathon gas station in front of what use to be Underdogs and across from the Pawn shop is owned by a Pakistani. I've heard some rumors the last 6 months or so that a couple of our soldiers have stopped in, dressed in fatigues, after drill and he would not allow them to purchase anything in the store. They were asked to leave and told their business is not wanted or needed. Apparently this happened again on Sunday. You don't know how much of what you hear is actually true so I stopped in last night on the way to the B & G club. I don't really know why, I'm not sure what I thought I was going to say or do but I had to check this guy out. Luckily he was working. I took my water up to the counter and waited while he played with the tape roll on the machine. I had my wallet out so I could pay him when he was done.. Right there in my wallet was my standard military picture of my brother in front of the flag (most of you know he is serving outside Baghdad right now). He finished what he was working on and was extremely friendly to me as he rang up the water. I placed my wallet on the table and pointed to my brother and asked what he would do if he came in for a water (I couldn't help myself). As uncomfortable as it was with only the two of us in that small store he told me in what was a poor attempt of English that "I give no water, no nothing to him, he may leave", his attitude completely changed. I was taken back, I couldn't believe what just happened. I closed my wallet and left my water on the counter and told him that if he must leave then I must leave too. I could not believe it. I sat in my car and didn't know whether to laugh at him or cry. I guess the reason I'm telling you this is so you can make a decision on whether or not to give him your business. I guess that is why it's America, he is able to come to this country, own a small business tax free, and refuse business to anyone he wants. It is also our right not to give him our business.


former strippers for Jesus

To read about it, click here.
To visit their website (I promise it's not pornography), click here.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Lent is coming

The season of Lent begins next week on Ash Wednesday. Lent is the period of 40 days (not including Sundays) before Easter. You might want to consider finding a special devotional booklet to use during Lent to help you draw closer to God.

I have felt God leading me to publish a daily Lenten devotional on this blog. It will begin next Wednesday, and will be based on the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7). To me, the Sermon on the Mount is the best description of the radical and distinct life of discipleship that Jesus calls his followers to.

I encourage you to choose a Lenten devotional to enhance your own Lenten journey.

To read the Sermon on the Mount, click here.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

help wanted: doctor with needle

I heard that Michael Morales' execution was supposed to take place Monday night in California. It got post-poned. Why? The judge said that a medical professional had to administer the lethal injection. They couldn't find any medical professional who was willing to do it.

I heard a doctor on the radio saying that the medical professionals have been put in a very difficult situation in this case, because they're being asked to do something which violates the Hippocratic Oath.

This seems to be a problem with the way our society views the death penalty. Since we live in a democracy (by the people, for the people), every sentence that is carried out is done so on behalf of all of the people within the democracy.

In other words, we all, each and every one of us, place the lethal injection in the arm of Michael Morales. But by having someone else do it on our behalf, we absolve ourselves of the title of "executioner." I used to be for the death penalty. I don't think I am anymore. How about you?

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

prozac nation

a nation of people on anti-depressants, teenagers cutting themselves, emotionally mangled kids of divorced parents, self-loathing, drug abuse, escapism, promiscuity as a means of trying to get love, parents lying to children, incapacitating depression, psychotherapy...

Last night I watched an incredible movie called Prozac Nation. It's the true story of Elizabeth Wurtzel. It is definitely not a family film. As a person who has wrestled with anxiety and Obsessive Compulsive Behavior for the past 15 years, I was drawn to this honest portrayal of the despair that so many of us find ourselves in.

If you desire to have a better understanding of the hell that many Americans experience everyday (especially young people), you will be interested in this movie. If you are easily disturbed by true stories of people who are severely hurting do not watch this movie. There are some shocking images.

This is why my understanding of the salvation that Jesus offers is one that must and does begin here and now. It's not just saving us from eternal hell, but hell here. I fear a false view of salvation has caused many people to think they're saved from eternal hell, while living in hell here. Living emotionally and mentally separated from God on earth is hell. Both heaven and hell begin here.

Monday, February 20, 2006

hell and those who have never heard of Jesus

Last night in Bible study, we talked about one of the most difficult questions that people ask concerning Jesus. This is important to those who are considering whether or not to become a follower of Christ, and when those who are growing in their relationship with Christ. The question is: Will those who have never heard about Jesus go to hell?

I have wrestled with this question most of my life. I remembered this quote from Christian theologian C.S. Lewis in his book Mere Christianity. If you're not familiar with C.S. Lewis, he's the guy who wrote The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. He is very respected and influential among many evangelical Christians. This quote was originally part of a radio talk called "The Case for Christianity," given in England in 1943.

Here is another thing that used to puzzle me. Is it not frightfully unfair that this new life should be confined to people who have heard of Christ and been able to believe in Him? But the truth is God has not told us what His arrangements about the other people are. We do know that know man can be saved except through Jesus Christ; we do not know that only those who know Him can be saved through Him. But in the meantime, if you are worried about the people outside, the most unreasonable thing you can do is remain outside yourself. Christians are Christ's body, the organism through which He works. Every addition to that body enables Him to do more. If you want to help those outside you must add your own little cell to the body of Christ who alone can help them. Cutting off a man's finger would be an odd way to get Him to do more work (p.50).

I like his thinking. I have to say that I don't feel certain about this issue myself. I definitely believe that rejecting Christ is a choice that many will make, which will be honored by God, who will allow them to spend eternity apart from him. About those who haven't heard, I just don't know. What do you think? What do you think about Lewis's thoughts?

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Poland to evangelize European Union?

I was strangely shocked by a story I heard on NPR this morning as I was driving to church. It appears that Poland is taking upon themselves the role of evangelizing the European Union! Go Poland! Who would have thought?

Click here to check it out.

morale = faith in the man at the top

I once heard a John Maxwell leadership training tape that was discussing the issue of morale. He says that a church's morale will be low if they don't have faith in their pastor, but high if they do. I like his definition of morale as "faith in the man at the top." (I don't like it as much when it is applied to pastors, because that's a lot of pressure!)

I think a better application is that our "man at the top" isn't a president, a governor, a mayor, a pastor, a bishop, a superintendent (though I do feel that morale is increasing in the district I serve in because of the spiritual leadership of our superintendent). Our man at the top is Jesus Christ.

My morale gets low when I allign myself primarily with any human bureaucratic system, whether secular or religious. But when I remember that I'm really serving someone who has guarranteed us enormous and glorious "success," who loves us in spite of all our weaknesses, who took it upon himself to walk in our shoes (a place where many bureaucratic representatives fall short), and who is actually improving my character day by day, never giving up on me... then my morale improves.

Saturday, February 18, 2006

Wesley's Notes on the Whole Bible

I found a place where we can view John Wesley's (18th century English founder of the Methodist Movement) complete notes on the Entire Bible online for free. If there's a passage you're reading, you might be curious to see what the first Methodist thought about it.

Here's the link: John Wesley's Explanatory Notes on the Whole Bible

You'll that this is provided by www.crosswalk.com which has tons of other cool free Bible resources as well.

Friday, February 17, 2006

Don't Waste Your Cancer

I often check the daily blog of Pontiac native Steve McCoy (brother of Pontiac mayor Scott McCoy), who is a Southern Baptist pastor in Woodstock, Illinois. Yesterday he posted a blog entry called "Don't Waste Your Cancer," which shared the thoughts of influential pastor John Piper (who has prostate cancer). Both Steve's blog and John Piper's 10 tips about how to not waste your cancer are worth checking out, especially if you or someone who know has or has had cancer.

Steve's blog: Click here
John Piper's "Don't Waste Your Cancer" article: Click here

tough Jesus love

There is something very uncomfortable with the kind of love that Jesus commanded us to have. He said anybody can love those who are easy to love. Anybody can love someone who loves him/her first. That's generic easy wordly love. Even Hitler loved his mom.

The past few nights I've had great conversations with Christian friends about how hard it is to love the way Jesus loved. When we're following Jesus, there's no one we're permitted to not love. There's no one we're permitted to not forgive. There's no one we're permitted to hold a grudge against.

There's no, "I try to follow the teachings of Jesus, but there's just a few people who I cannot love or forgive." It's only in our relationships with those difficult people that we even have the opportunity to "love the way Jesus loved"!

Thursday, February 16, 2006

critique of the "Purpose-Driven" movement

A few months ago, I came across a very well-researched, well-written (and only mildly sarcastic) critique of the "purpose-driven" model of church, Christianity, and life in general that has been sweeping the world for the last ten years. This critique gives incredible background info about how Rick Warren developed this approach, and examines some of it's weaknesses in a very eye-opening way. I'm not "against" Rick Warren, but I do think this critique is worth reading. It's in PDF format, so I think you'll need Adobe Acrobat to read it. If it doesn't work and you want this, let me know and I'll get you a copy.

Here it is: "The Pied Pipers of Purpose"

simplicity

I came across a verse when I was preaching through the New Testament book of I John that for me summarizes all of Christianity:

And this is his commandment, that we should believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he commanded us. - I John 3:23

So there it is.

What do I have to believe? That Jesus of Nazareth is the Son of God and the Savior (Christ) of the human race.

What do I have to do? Love other human beings. What about loving God? Jesus explains that our love for God is expressed in our love for other Christians (those we like and don't like), non-Christians, and our enemies (in other words, everyone).

Simplicity: believe in Jesus Christ the Son of God and love God by loving all people.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

recommended thoughts RE:God and career

My friend, Mark Dooley, had some great thoughts about how each person's job is a higher calling from God. I highly recommend his "Higher Calling" blog entry. Click here to check it out.

divorce and remarriage

I think it should be clearly stated that Jesus spoke out against divorce. Period. He didn't like it. It says in Malachi, "God hates divorce." I'm not sure I know anyone who is "pro-divorce," (unless you make your living filing divorces for people that is).

In the Law of Moses, there was no value judgment placed on divorce. It just said that if a man's wife didn't please him, he should divorce her by giving her a certificate of divorce. (Not that he should divorce her, but if he did it, he should do it this way.) It appears in Jesus' day that many people would get rid of their wife and just get one they liked better, maybe a younger one, better looking, that could produce more children, etc.

So Jesus said, "You have heard that it was said, 'whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.' But I say to you, anyone who divorces his wife except on the ground of sexual infidelity causes her to commit adultery, and whoever married a divorced woman commits adultery."

I take this to mean 1)Jesus is against divorce in general, and 2)Jesus is against dumping your spouse for someone better, and 3)Jesus is against a man convincing a woman to dump her husband so that he can have her as his wife.

That out of the way... statistics show that the divorce rate is 51%. We may be tempted to say, "Born again Christians don't believe in divorce. It's those other people who are corrupting the world." We should be careful. George Barna, the fundamentalist, born-again Christian pollster states that the divorce rate among born-again Christians is exactly the same as non-Christians, 51%. We might interpret this to mean that 51% of the people who believe that Jesus is against divorce find themselves in a situation where they get a divorce.

As a pastor, I often perform weddings for people who have been divorced in the past. This doesn't mean that I would always do so regardless of the circumstances. I have friends who believe that when two people are married, they should enter into it believing that divorce is not an option. I agree. Who doesn't, really?

But what would we say in specific circumstances? Suppose the wife of a 25-year-old man divorced him for another guy? Would we say that the 25-year-old man should never remarry? We know from the Genesis story that it is not good for a "man [or a woman] to be alone." That's what God says anyway.

This is a tough subject. What do you think?

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

evolution sunday???

A blogging friend of mine pointed out that many churches celebrated "Evolution Sunday" two days ago in honor of the birthday of Charles Darwin. Supposedly, this is in reaction to the debate about "intelligent design" theory being taught in public schools. Apparently, many pastors agreed to preach a sermon in support of Darwin's theory of evolution on this Sunday. A large number (445 churches from over 45 states) participated in this event.

This is really bizarre. It feels like an episode of The Twilight Zone.

For more information, see Evolution Sunday.

Monday, February 13, 2006

Monday stuff

My family and I have all been home sick today.
Here's some pix that I took this weekend before we got ill. On top you can see Rock-n-Roll Landry having a serious jam session. To the right you can see Marlie covered in turkey sticks (it was even in her hair!). Things that would normally be really disgusting become strangely cute when my little girl is having so much fun.

Two of my good friends, Luke Arnold and
Mark Dooley, have just started blogging. Click on their names to see their blogs.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

you deserve this little treat

Please click on this and watch it. You won't be disappointed.

rethinking bureaucracy

This past Saturday I spent 5.5 hours in a meeting for a bureaucratic committee that I serve on for our denomination. Something occurred to me as we were sitting around trying to figure out how to expand our ministries to meet growing challenges, and to do that with diminishing incomes. What occurred to me is that my notion that bureaucracy is evil may have been naive (When I say bureaucracy, I refer to human systems of governing each other. I'm not referring to any person within a specific bureaucracy. We are all in them, without exception). I heard the hearts of all of the people sitting around the table, and there wasn't any evil in their hearts, only good.

Now I think bureaucracy is just inadequate. Most people in shrinking denominations and on school boards and in government really do want to do the right thing. Their hearts are good. It's just that human beings don't have the stuff within their systems to solve the problems in this complex world. We just don't know what to do. Good people who just don't know what to do or how to do it. That's my new picture of bureaucracy. If this sounds bleak, it's actually quite a step up from my previous position.

Saturday, February 11, 2006

your personal mission/identity statement

I don't believe that a person can do "anything she puts her mind to." I believe that God gives each person certain natural abilities at birth, and when a person is born spiritually through faith in Christ, God gives her a spiritual ability or gift. I also believe that when a person figures out through experience and trial and error what her spiritual gift is, then the person has unlocked the key to the little bit that God has created her to do within his overall purpose for redeeming the world. This little bit is something unique and wonderful and full of meaning. Every person has a special little bit of her own, without exception.

Through trial and error I have come to believe that my gift is what is described in the Bible as the gift of pastor/teacher. There are numerous gifts that a person might have. Some are the gifts of leadership, mercy, compassion, giving, apostleship, evangelism, healing, serving, and others. There aren't any that are more important as others. And no one can boast of having her gift because she is more special than any other. The Apostle Paul writes, "What do you have that you did not receive? And if you received it, why do you boast as if it were not a gift?"

A book I read a couple of years ago (The Seven Habits of Highly Successful People, by Steven Covey) suggests that it might be profitable for a person to write a mission statement for herself, so that she would have focus in her life, and remember what she was put on this earth for. I thought about mine for a long time and came up with this:

My mission is to make disciples of Jesus Christ by learning, doing, and teaching God's word.

It gives me focus and helps me remember who God has created me to be and what my main priority should be. The Apostle Peter writes "As each one has received a gift, minister it to one another."

It might be worthwhile for you to take some time and think and pray about what gift God has given you and then to craft a short, catchy mission/identity statement that helps you focus and remember what your unique little bit is. It's pretty cool that God has a little bit that only you can do toward helping him achieve his goal of the redemption of the world.

If you would like help figuring out your little bit, talk to a Christian friend or me. (Or if you're really smart, you'd talk to my friend Lon Alderman. He's good at this stuff. The link to his webpage is www.acornministries.com.)

Friday, February 10, 2006

CODEPENDENCE OR CHRIST?

This is an article that is appearing in the Pontiac Daily Leader "Pastoral Perspectives" column on Saturday, February 11. In case you don't get the Pontiac paper, I thought I'd post it.

CODEPENDENCE OR CHRIST?
Jason Woolever

I have often heard the statement, “You cannot control what happens to you, but you can control what happens in you.” Or it might be phrased, “You cannot control what happens to you, but you can control your response to it.” To me this addresses the primary source of all frustration. I want to control what happens in my life, in my home, in my church, in my denomination, in my country, in my world. Can you relate to this? Have you ever spent any amount of energy getting upset because a friend or family member doesn’t treat you the way that you would like to be treated? Have you ever spent time complaining at the coffee shop about how “those people” just don’t get it?

In her wonderful book, Codependent No More, Melody Beattie gives her definition of the word codependent: “A codependent person is one who lets another person’s behavior affect him or her, and who is obsessed with controlling that person’s behavior” (p.36). You may be laughing as you read that definition, thinking, “That describes everyone I know!” Or you may be saying, “That’s me.” Or if you’re like me, you’re saying, “That’s my wife, all right!” (Just kidding, honey!). In some sense I think it describes all of us. Have you allowed yourself to get upset about the behavior of the governor or the president lately? That would apply.

I’m currently reading a book by Christian pollster George Barna called Revolution. He’s trying to call those who consider themselves Christians to become “Revolutionaries.” This is the word he’s using to describe radically committed followers of Jesus Christ. It’s a decent book (not the deepest piece of literature I’ve read). In one chapter though, he gives perspectives that Revolutionaries will have. One of those is that they take their “marching orders from God.” He writes, “Americans are used to controlling their lives. What makes Revolutionaries so bizarre is that they admit they do not have control of their lives and they are not seeking to attain control. Who else would you want controlling your life besides the God of Creation?... A Revolutionary knows who calls the shots, and he knows what the voice of the Commander in Chief sounds like. Success is not about proving your own ability by creating and implementing our own plans; it’s all about our fervent desire to be used by God” (pp.82-83).

This evokes the question of faith though. Do we believe that God is in control, or do we believe that it is our job to control everything? If God really is in control, then I can relax and focus on responding in a Christ-like matter. I don’t have to worry about controlling everything and experience the frustration that accompanies such a venture. If God is really not in control, then I better keep fighting, keep getting frustrated, and stay enmeshed in the mess.

Personally, I believe that God is in control and that I don’t have to try to be. Unfortunately, I don’t always act on this belief. God keeps reminding me that I don’t have to live that way. He says in Psalm 46, “Be still and know that I am God. I am exalted among the nations. I am exalted in the earth.” And it says in Proverbs 3:5,6, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not rely on your own insight. In all your ways acknowledge him and he will make straight your paths.”

Jesus offers us a better way, an easier (yes, I did say easier) way. He says, “Come to me all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burden and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble of heart, and you will find rest for your souls” (Matthew 11:28,29).

Dare you take your hands off the controls and give them to God?

food for thought

It's been a heavy week for me pondering politics, religious bureaucracy, and hell. (By the way, thanks so much for everyone's thoughtful feedback on the Pledge of Allegiance and hell. I found it very encouraging to hear that other people are wrestling with the same things I am. I found solace in your insight.) So I thought I'd end this week by sharing a poem that I wrote for a Choral Conducting class in college. Notice I've included discussion questions at the bottom to help you process this meaty topic with your children, spouses, friends, and colleagues.

THE MAN WITH ONE RED SHOE
There once was a man with one red shoe.
He swore to his death that he thought it was blue.
Ol boy couldn't tell the two colors apart,
But he gave to the shoe what he felt in his heart.

He had lots of friends, some short and some tall,
And some of the best ones had no shoes at all
And he noticed that these weren't as lucky as him,
So he offered his shoe one day on a whim.

As he walked off that day as shoeless as dirt,
He began to see how much shoeless life hurt,
So he chopped off his foot and he left it to rot,
And he swore to his death that he missed his foot not...
And he swore to his death that he missed his foot not.

QUESTIONS FOR DISCUSSION
1. Who do you identify with the most in this story? the man? the friends? the shoe? the foot? Why?
2. If we have one shoe and we notice that others have none, are we morally obligated to give our shoe away?
3. Is it an act of love to "offer [our] shoe one day on a whim," if we resent it later?
4. When is a time that you have given something away impulsively and later wished you had it back?
5. Was it lying for the man to say that his "missed his foot not" in order to keep the friend he gave his shoe to from feeling guilty?
6. How do you think it would have affected their friendship if the man told his friend that he was downright angry about giving the shoe away and that he blamed his friend for the fact that he chopped off his foot as well?

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

what's your take on hell?

Ever since I was a kid, I've thought about "hell." It seems that most everyone I talk to about hell seems to have a different view. These are the basic views of hell that I've come across:

1) Eternal Suffering - Those who do not receive the atoning sacrifice of Christ as the payment for their sins will suffer eternally, either in a literal lake of fire, or in something that is metaphorically described as fire.

2) Eternal Separation - Those who do not receive the atoning sacrifice of Christ as the payment for their sins will be separated from God eternally. This is their punishment. There is no torment or suffering other than existing for eternity without God, the author of goodness and hope.

3) Eternal Smoke - Those who do not receive the atoning sacrifice of Christ as the payment for their sins will be suffer annihilation either immediately after death or on the day of judgment. One could say "They'll be burn to a crisp."

4) Eternal Second Chances - Those who do not receive the atoning sacrifice of Christ as the payment for their sins during their time on earth will continue to be wooed by God until they finally accept him and enter into eternal paradise.

5) Eternal Schmaternal - There is no eternal anything. This world is all there is.

6) Eternal Sweetness - If there is a hell, it's in this life. When they die, everyone goes to "a better place." This has no connection to the way a person lives her life in this world.

7) The view that everyone will repent when they see Christ in full glory on the day of judgment and thus everyone will be saved. (I ran out of E.S. things. By the way, I got numbers 1,2,3 from http://www.biblicalanswers.net/annihilat.html.)

One could use and many have used the Bible to defend 1, 2, 3, 5, or 7. I think 1 and 2 have the most biblical support. I would love to believe 7, but I don't think I can conclude that by looking at the whole testimony of the Bible.

What do the rest of you think?

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

a must-read historical reflection

In response to the blog I posted Tuesday morning, I pledge allegiance to what?, my friend Carol shared this thoughtful and thought-provoking comment. It was so informative and gripping that I wanted to post it as its own post. Very new to me was the information in the first paragraph (“My Flag, right or wrong, to me always right.”). Here's Carol's comment.

During World War II when I was in school, we said the pledge of allegiance daily. At first, on the words “I pledge allegiance” we held our right arms out, palms up, toward the flag. That was changed because it looked too much like “Heil Hitler.” We held our hands over our hearts. We were proud to be Americans and to pledge our loyalty to America. The Depression Generation were people who didn’t question. On the wall of school there hung a picture of the American flag. Underneath were the words: “My Flag, right or wrong, to me always right.” Years later as we learned more about that war, we questioned many of the actions of our government.

A few years later our country was enmeshed in the Korean War and young men were drafted, pulled out of college, including my husband, with no choice if they wanted to serve or not. More deaths and disabilities and then we pulled out and left Korea in the mess that it still is in. During the Viet Nam War, wealthier men could avoid service and it was mostly fought by the poor. By that time people began to question. This was a war that almost split a nation. Then we pulled out and left the South Vietnamese to be butchered by the North.

The Persian Gulf War was over so quickly that Americans felt great about “winning” with technology. Now comes the Iraq War, that we all thought would be over quickly with our “shock and awe,” and with the Iraqi people greeting our soldiers with flowers. That hasn’t happened. Almost three years later, and with over 2,000 dead and many more crippled for life, our nation is split and it is frightening, especially to the “right or wrong, to me always right“ generation.

Looking back over our 230 years as a nation, our leaders have done many insane things. Stealing land from the native Americans, condoning and promoting slavery, allowing segregation until the recent 1960’s and corruption among our congressional leaders. In spite of this, when I put my hand over my heart and pledge allegiance to my flag -- a symbol of my country -- I am grateful that I live where I can be a Christian without fear, that I can travel from state to state without inspection, and I can reside wherever I wish. “My flag -- with all its manifold sins -- I owe my allegiance.” Besides, where else would I want to live?

Carol Herdien

I pledge allegiance to what?

This past Sunday at our 10:45am worship service the Boy Scouts whom are part of our church brought in the American flag, led us in saying the Pledge of Allegiance, and told a little bit about scouting. It was nice.

I felt something very strange though as we all stood (without being told) as the flag was brought in and then recited the words of the Pledge.

Here's why I felt strange. This past week I read the book If God is Love, by Philip Gulley and James Mulholland, two Quaker ministers. These guys are pacifists and universalists. A universalist is someone who believes everyone is going to heaven because there is no hell. I am neither a pacifist or a universalist, but I decided to read this good book to help me better understand their opinions. (This is rare for me. I usually just read books that reinforce what I already believe.) I should say that I benefited from this book and recommend it, even though I come to different conclusions myself.

The writers were challenging blind nationalism that supports a nation regardless of the decisions that the nation makes. So, when the flag was brought it in, and as I stood immediately with the rest, and as I repeated the Pledge to the flag, I felt strange.

The questions going through my head have been:
- Do I pledge allegiance to this flag (my country) even when we use torture to fight terrorism?
- Do I pledge allegiance to this country even when we blow up thousands of innocent men, women and children, in retaliation for certain people blowing up our loves ones? Do innocent people ever deserve to die? Do two or three acts of massive slaughter really right the first one?
- Do I pledge allegiance to this country when we conduct business in ways that directly contradict the teachings of Jesus?
- Can I put my hand on my heart and pledge allegiance to two kingdoms-the kingdom of the USA and the Kingdom of Jesus Christ? There was a time when we thought they might have been one and the same. We have proven they are not.
- Do I pledge allegiance to this country no matter what we do and become?

I love my country, I like the president (We have a picture of my wife standing next to him hanging up at our house), but where does my allegiance lie? Can it lie in two things that may contradict one another?

Monday, February 06, 2006

wwjd - what would Jesus drive?

I've often wrestled with the question of whether Christians are called by God to drive the speed limit or whether God cares is we go a safe 7 miles an hour over the speed limit when driving on the interstate and country roads.

I especially wrestle with this because I'm the type of person who crams in as many things as possible. So I rarely have "extra" travel time when going from one place to another. I used to have a Christian fish on my car so everyone would know that a Christian was driving the car. When I got a new car, I left the fish off, because I knew my driving wasn't necessarily the best example of following Christ.

The verses that have convicted me about driving the speed limit are these: "For the Lord's sake accept the authority of every human institution, whether of the emperor as supreme, or of governors, as sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to praise those who do right. For it is God's will that by doing right you should silence the ignorance of the foolish" (I Peter 2:13-15).

As I was thinking about this on my way to Collinsville last week (about a 3 hour drive), I had my cruise control set on exactly the speed limit. I got passed by no fewer than 4 state troopers. The great thing is that when I'm driving the speed limit, I don't have any fear of "getting caught." (This should be an inward signal that I'm doing something I'm not supposed to be doing.)

As I've been experimenting with driving the speed limit, it seems as though I have to make fewer stops and that my kids are better behaved in the car, and so I may actually get to my destination faster. (You think I'm crazy now.) My theory is that God asks us to obey the laws of the land, and that when we do he rewards us. This doesn't mean I never speed, but when I obey God in this I seem to experience his blessing.

The other thought is that we just obey God because we love him and it's a way to show him our love.

Saturday, February 04, 2006

Jabez takes an early retirement

The new issue of Christianity Today shares that Bruce Wilkenson has announced his early retirement. At age 58, after a having moved to Africa to try and beat the aids epidemic, the writer of The Prayer of Jabez, The Dream Giver, and many other books, has decided to retire from active ministry. The article makes it sound that he was somewhat burned out from the many trials which accompanied his colossal undertaking.

I found this sad, but also somewhat confirming of how I feel when I read his books. He's always pushing the Christian to dream bigger and risk bigger and ask God for more, more, more. And at first it seems like a good idea. After a while though of constantly feeling like the only way to live faithfully is to enlarge, enlarge, enlarge for God, I start thinking, "This is really going to burn me out."

I know that all of the corporate literature about entrepreneurial success has to do with taking one risk after another. Legendary business books like In Search of Excellence, Built to Last, and Good to Great say that this is the only way to get ahead. I know that some people, like Wilkenson, are hard-wired for the risk-driven life. And I could see it as a faithful way to be who God created a person to be. But I don't think that God creates everyone that way. And I don't think the the Bible teaches that this is the only way to be who God created us to be. I am much more drawn to what I've heard called the "compassion-driven" life (in Kennon Callahan's The Strong, Small Church). This seems to be the life I see described by Jesus, modeled by Jesus, and prescribed in the New Testament.

I doubt we've seen the last of Bruce Wilkenson, but if you have a moment you might want to say a prayer for him to find encouragement in the Lord, as he has encouraged many.

Friday, February 03, 2006

man attacks gays with hatchet and pistol

I came across one of the most horrific news stories I've ever heard today. Another blogger, Josh Tinley (http://scrambies.blogspot.com/), summarized it succinctly: A man walks into a bar and asks the bartender whether the bar is a gay bar. The man then walks to the back of the room and watches a game of pool before attacking three patrons with a hatchet and a pistol.

This is a true story. You can see it at: http://www.cnn.com/2006/US/02/02/gay.shooting/index.html

One of the many feelings/thoughts that hit me was, "Man, I hope this guy doesn't claim that he was a Christian and that God hates gay people." I am a follower of Jesus who loves the gay people I know, and who believes that the Bible speaks against having sexual intercourse with people of the same gender. To my distress, and because of the often hostile expression of conservative Christianity against gay issues, many people see/experience only two categories: those who believe sexual intercourse with people of the same gender is not a "sin," and those who hate gays.

I hope that we can tear down the walls of hate through the love of Jesus without feeling we have to give up the Bible. Pray for the soul of this violent young man and for the recovery of the men he attacked and their families. From what I gathered from reading the article, they are still alive.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

are you in the right job?

It seems like I talk to quite a few people who are trying to figure out if they are in the job that God wants them in, or whether they should consider a change of career. How do we know whether we are or not?

I am reading a good book right now called If God is Love by Philip Gulley and James Mulholland. In a section entitled "Working Graciously," they share some words about work and God from a guy named Frederick Buechner (from his book Beyond Words). I thought these words from Freddy B. might be worth passing along:

"The kind of work God usually calls you to is the kind of work (a) that you need most to do and (b) that the world most needs you to do...
"If you really get a kick out of your work, you've met requirement (a), but if your work is writing cigarette ads, the chances are you've missed requirement (b). On the other hand, if your work is being a doctor in a leper colony, you've probably met requirement (b), but if most of the time you're bored and depressed by it, the chances are you have not only bypassed (a), but probably aren't helping your patients much either. Neither the hair shirt nor the soft berth will do. The place God calls you to is where your deep gladness and the world's deep hunger meet."

measuring success

My friend, Lon, posted a very challenging insight about how Christians measure success at his blog today. You might want to check it out. I included the link below.

http://notesfromtheheadnut.blogspot.com/2006/02/measuring-stick.html

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

it's already happening?

A few days ago, I lightly suggested in this blog that perhaps all the mainline denominations would be forced by declining numbers to evolve into one big denomination which would then itself decline. I just found out that this had already happened and is happening in Australia to a large degree.

The worship leader at the retreat/conference I was at in Collinsville had recently turned in his credentials in the Uniting Church of Australia, and at the ripe old age of 32 has moved to America to be a full-time musician. His name is Mike Rayson (http://www.mikerayson.net/). He's a real cool guy. I hope he can come to the church I pastor and do a revival some time.

I visited the Uniting Church in Australia's website at http://www.uca.org.au/ to find out more about it. I found this statement and a bunch of other stuff there:

"The Uniting Church in Australia was formed on June 22, 1977, as a union of three churches: the Congregational Union of Australia, the Methodist Church of Australasia and the Presbyterian Church of Australia."

This may be the next stage in the evolution of North American Christianity. He must become greater, we must become less.