Thursday, September 30, 2010

Sara Bareilles King of Anything as a treatise on personal evangelism.

I know I am late to the party again, obviously, the song King of Anything has already sold enough copies to be number one, but, that has never stopped me from saying what I think anyway. I love this song. The lyrics, the tune, the happy feel of it, love it. I also love it for other reasons, that cause me equally to loathe it.

Sharing one's faith is a tricky issue these days, knowing how to bring up the topic, being afraid of what who will think, and, according to the latest Pew poll, for many believers, even have a clear understanding of the issue themselves can be an issue.

The song, whether aimed at well meaning Christians or not, hits the nail on the head. For those who just humm and tap your toes, here are the lyrics, as written by Sara Bareilles:

Keep drinkin' coffee
Stare me down across the table
While I look outside

So many things I'd say if only I were able
But I just keep quiet
And count the cars that pass by

You've got opinions, man
We're all entitled to 'em
But I never asked

So let me thank you for time
And try to not waste any more of mine
Get out of here fast

I hate to break it you babe
But I'm not drowning
There's no one here to save

Who cares if you disagree
You are not me
Who made you king of anything
So you dare tell me who to be
Who died
And made you king of anything

You sound so innocent
All full of good intent
You swear you know best

But you expect me to
Jump up on board with you
Right off into your dellusional sunset

I'm not the one who's lost
With no direction oh
But you won't ever see

You're so busy makin' maps
With my name on them in all caps
You got the talkin' down just not the listening

And who cares if you disagree
You are not me
Who made you king of anything
So you dare tell me who to be
Who died
And made you king of anything

All my life
I've tried
To make everybody happy while I
Just hurt
And hide
Waitin' for someone to tell me it's my turn
To decide

(With another chorus followed by:)

Let me hold your crown, babe

Now many of you may wonder what I mean by bringing this song into a discussion of personal evangelism. The clearest road map as to how it should be done, not necessarily what should be said, can be found in Jesus words to the seventy members of his band of followers that were sent out to spread the gospel. Among instructions about what to pack and where to go, we find these items: Go into a city, stop at the first house you see, if they accept you, stay there and teach. If they do not, go on to another house, any city that does not accept you, shake the dust of its streets from your feet and move on.

Refreshing, isn't it? Just share, if they like it, share more, if they are nor interested, buzz off. Now, I don't think this is exactly a model for personal contact with friends and acquaintances, but I do think we can take a lot from the words of the master.
How many times have you felt you were beating your head against a brick wall, in your attempts to “lead someone to Christ” ? Well, if you insist on brow beating, cajoling and coercing, go see Isaiah chapter one to see what God thinks about constant religious posturing, it ain't good.

Here, is what I believe, if I share with someone about the gospel, I need to wait to be invited in, as in the example of Jesus instructions to the seventy. That conversation can't start with, “So, I noticed you're gay, do you know what the Bible says about that?” or, “Was that your pickup I saw at the titty-bar while I was on my way to Church?”. We need to wait for a genuine invitation into the lives of others. Then we need to focus on Him, not them. If they like what we say, and want to hear more, then the path is laid for further conversation, if not, don't keep asking.

This next part is like shooting a three pointer, on one leg, blindfolded, with a medicine ball, hard if not impossible. Our job in this context goes back to the two great commands, love God, love your neighbor. No matter what. We are never released from this, ever. So, what that means is, we continue to be loving towards that person. We look for opportunities to pray for them (don't ask, don't tell, just pray) that God will intervene in their lives and make himself apparent.

In other words, we continue to be a friend, whether they kick out their boyfriend or not, whether they continue visiting the “gentleman's club” or not. It is not our job to save them, as the song implies, many people do not even recognize their need for salvation, which has to be the first step. That is not your job. That is the Holy Spirit's job. If they ask you what the Bible says about something, kindly and without judgment help them find out. Remember that scripture records Paul as having said that throughout his entire life he had not violated his conscience in his service to God, he genuinely believed that killing Christians was the right thing to do. (had that thought a few time myself, after all they are saved, and they make a lot less noise when they're dead, joking of course, or am I?)

We tend to lose site of the fact that we are just as in need of saving as the next guy. Like the song says, “Who died and made you king of anything?”

Oh, by the way, I hate the song, because I see myself in the person she is singing to, far too often.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Bare Feet are Happy Feet (poverty is not contagious)

What is it about poverty that scares people? Really? I have been poor my entire life. Most people don't know how poor. You see, unlike most people from the wrong side of the tracks, I have developed a little camouflage. Mine involves the fact that I am well read and articulate. I also have something of a sense of style that sets me apart, that, and I brush my teeth and shave occasionally, but I assure you, I am a card carrying poor person. For some of you, this will cause you to look at me differently. There is something about me that is unique. I don't give a damn about money. Never have. You couldn't buy me with all of the gold that the federal reserve may or may not have. I am not for sale.

That is not to say that I don't do things for a paycheck that I would not do for free, of course there are, but what I mean to say is that I refuse to change who I am so I can have more of the stuff, and I'm okay with it. I would like at some point to be comfortable, to not have every storm or breakdown become a major crisis. Nobody likes to live like that, and I work hard to make that happen.

In our modern society, and sad to say, even more so in the Church, sometimes, the having of things is seen as a sure sign that the universe is smiling on you, that you are doing life the way it was meant to be. How can we say this, or even believe it? I just read a short article in which the author describes a scene in Africa, when he and a group of mission minded believers arrived at an orphanage to the smiling faces of shoeless orphans who had nothing. It was my experience as well , in my one trip outside the borders of this country into the third world, that the people, especially the children, were happier.

Here in the good old USA we have just the opposite problem, too many shoes. A friend of mine was describing the other day a conversation in which he told his stepson that he would not be getting the latest and greatest sneakers this time around, because my friend is being forced to reconsider what his life is worth, and he has decided not to measure it in money.

We are told from the time that we are small that it is important. Children are encouraged to cram their heads full of a very specific set of facts, a very narrow wedge of information, which we mistakenly call “education”, all based on the monetary benefits that are thought will be derived from knowing the right things. Never mind, will it make the world a better place, just pass the test, get the grade, take the right classes. Never mind what you want to learn, where your passion lies, where your curiosity compels you to.

I think this comes from a misunderstanding of the Biblical concept of stewardship. A few weeks back I issued this challenge on my Facebook page: Bragging rights to the first person to quote chapter and verse where Jesus has anything good to say about wealth or the wealthy. It sat for several days, with a couple of likes, but no replies. Then a young man, who was one of my acting students years ago replied with: Luke chapter 16:1-13. Read it. At the end of this parable about a steward who had been squandering his bosses money and got caught, we find this statement by Jesus: “ You cannot serve both God and money” this is the point of the story.

I assume, having not asked, that the positive angle this young man was pointing out was when Jesus told his listeners to follow the steward's example and use worldly wealth to “buy friends for yourselves”. All-in-all, not quite the answer I was looking for, and there may well be an answer that I have not thought of.

I fear that we, like the children of Israel, have formed a calf to worship in the form of the almighty dollar and all that it affords. We have bought into the idea of owning things, planning for retirement, saving for emergencies, and the like. These are not bad things on their faces, but let me ask you this. Have you ever said to your neighbor, which remember, Jesus defines as anyone who needs you, go, be filled, and done nothing when it was within your power to do so? Have you funded your 401k while your neighbor lost their house for want of a single payment? Have you saved for next Summer's vacation while there are those in your community praying for a single sack of groceries?

I know there are a couple of verses that indicate that people should be better managers than to end up in a tight spot, but honestly, have you never made a bad decision and ended up somewhere other than where you intended? And do you honestly believe that God is calling you to set aside for your own future comfort while not aiding those who are fighting for survival? Have you even asked him?

I know that we are all taught to tithe, to give 10% to our local churches, that that is sacred, well, I got news for you. When the prophet Malachi told the people to bring the tithe into the storehouse, he was not referring to a local church with a 5 million dollar budget, that spends more than 50% of that in salaries and benefits for employees. (that is a real statistic from OKC) He was talking about a system, outlined in Deutoronomy that was set up as a tax. That money went to feed the needy, (widows and orphans) to take care of travelers (illegal aliens?) and to provide for the care of the Levites.

Now, before you compare the tribe of Levi to modern pastors, let me 'splain something. It isn't an entirely accurate analogy. The tribe of Levi was given this offering to make up for the fact that they had no physical inheritance in the land of Canaan, look it up. God wanted them to stay out of business. They didn't own property and were limited in their options to make a living. Now, many pastors are limited by their schedules and salaries and I do not begrudge them their salaries, but many of them are some of the wealthiest among us, and I question the validity of that.

Add this to the fact that the bar was lifted in every other regard when it comes to comparing the old and new covenants and you may come to the conclusion, that 10% should only be a starting point.

Here is what we have done. We have assumed that scripture applies to people in need when it says: “if a man will not work, neither let him eat” and “if a man cares not for his own, he is worse than an unbeliever” but we do not recall that Jesus, in describing the criteria for inclusion in the sheep, instead of the goats, on the day of judgment, states that anything done for the least among us was done for him.

I am poor, have been all of my life. Do not pity me. I look around at my eight children and am very aware of my blessings. When I see them worship and hear their kind words for each other, I know that I, like Martha's sister Mary, have chosen the better part. Another friend and I were having this very conversation. He was fretting over whether God was calling him to have another (4th) child, or if it was selfish of him to want this when he hadn't fully funded the other three college funds yet. I asked him to think about the families that had everything and to pick out one that he knows that is content. He could not.

If you find yourself afraid of reaching out to the poor, or even just the down-and-out think about this.

Poverty is not contagious. Success, can be. Infect someone.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Fast Food for Christians

A few days back my buddy Mannaseh wrote a self revealing piece about health and food. It rang true with me and I have pondered it since. Finding inspiration in the mundane is a particular hobby of mine and this blog post about food (how much more mundane can a topic be?) was no exception.

I was immediately struck by a spiritual parallel that most American Christians will understand. The phenomenon of fast food gospel. Since I just coined the phrase, allow me to explain. What I mean by fast food gospel is the practice of preaching exclusively topical sermons, littered with pop culture references, pulling obscure verses together to try and make a point, and generally preaching to “tickle the ears”, as the New Testament puts it, of the hearers.

More and more we are moving away from teaching the entire Bible. Most people are fortunate to have heard contextually accurate sermons regarding more than half of the New Testament, let alone the old. It just isn't convenient. Why dig through an entire life story of some long dead “hero of faith” when we can hash up a story from the headlines, or better yet, the latest movie.

Now, if you read me often you'll know I just wrote a piece about Machete, so I am not opposed to taking inspiration from almost any source, but, using this technique exclusively creates Churches full of believers that think the Bible is nothing but a series of USA Today type headlines: not a full on tabloid, but not exactly a full fledged newspaper either. They are getting the Reader's Digest version.

While it may seem fun to take verses and twist them around to make them mean what you want, the scripture itself has several warning regarding people who do such things. They're called Wolves in Sheep's clothing, False Teachers and a few other choice terms, such as well decorated tombs and poisonous snakes. And for good reason, it makes for spiritually overweight, lazy believers who can never hope to accomplish the hard things when God asks.

The stories are there for a reason. The context matters. If we find out that David, for instance, was a man after God's own heart who did the whole will of God (according to Acts chapter 13), we might miss something if we don't realize that he also had time for adultery and murder and was a miserable failure as a father.

But we are too busy inventing new doctrines to keep the padded seats, with armrests, full. (remember when it used to be pews, ah the good old days) It's hard to tell people that Job got his stuff back, but only after God let the devil steal it, or that there was a prophet who was commanded to marry a professional harlot (hooker) and then buy her back on the slave auction block when she ran around on him. What about Moses, who was in hiding in the desert from a well deserved murder rap when he stumbled across the burning bush, or how Paul was on his way to kill Christians when God struck him blind? Things like this don't sit well with our modern ideas about holiness, which typically has more to do with having your finances “in order” than anything else.

We have entered an era of fast food sermons and Bible studies. And, I am afraid that there are a lot of Christians with spiritual diabetes who couldn't stomach a full meal of the truth. When we deal with the hard truths of scripture we tend to gloss over these incidents as being the spiritual equivalent of a weight loss product ad: before salvation (photo of debaucherous behavior) after salvation (perfect little angel that looks like a mormon elder). But that wasn't so. It was after three years of ministry with THE SON OF GOD, that Peter lost his cool, chopped off a man's ear and cussed out two, count 'em, two servant girls in one night. Six weeks later this dude is preaching a sermon that was understood by people in at least thirteen different languages!

Paul writes letters to Churches who were allowing their members to engage in temple prostitution, and while he called them to repentance, it apparently never occurred to him to question the sincerity of their faith.

Jesus sums it up like this: There was a vineyard owner with two sons. He said to the first, “Go pick grapes” the boy said. “Yes, father.” But, never got off his butt to go. He told the second the same thing. He said, “No, thanks.” But, later changed his mind and went. Then Jesus asked, “Which one did as the Father desired?”

Samuel said that to obey, was better than sacrifice, and I think we can apply this to any religious observance. What counted with the vineyard owner's son, is what counted with David. They both took what the father asked to heart, and, better late than never, they did it.

So, the latest and greatest devotional may make “quiet time” fun time at your house, but if you are not being challenged to go out and rescue the lost, and give aid to those in need, and then following through on it, burn the damn thing. Crack open a real Bible, read about a few of the people that God was excited about. Have a real spiritual steak and salad. See how they handled the hard stuff, sometimes right, more often than not, wrong, then right. Now go follow their example. (skip the adultery and murder, that part's no fun)

Thursday, September 23, 2010

The Gospel Isn't Monkey Business, or, Is It?

I saw a monkey, day before yesterday. In seven-eleven. He opened a straw to put into his Big Gulp and calmly took a long sip. This would have been odd, all on its own, seeing as how this was Edmond Oklahoma. Then the fun happened. His handler took the cup from the monkey, placed her lips on his straw, and took her own long sip.

I wanted to freak out. I wanted to run out in the parking lot and drag everybody in, ask the woman to make him open straws and do the soda thing again, take pictures, share the experience. Not because it was that unusual, but mostly because, then I would know I was not merely suffering from sleep deprivation. That this was actually happening. Thirty-nine years, that's how long I have been here, conscious of my existence on this planet without ever having once, so far as I remember, shared a seven-eleven with a lower primate.

The woman has obviously been working with them for years. She was very comfortable with the whole thing, beyond just the drinking after the monkey part, she was cool and confident, as if people should be used to seeing furry patrons in the seven eleven. Not at all like the high maintenance women you see with their yippy little fur balls in designer handbag/ travel kennels, cruising through the mall to the clack of stiletto heels. They were wanting attention, but this lady, didn't seem to mind it, but was just out for the evening with her monkey.

Turns out, my brother knows the lady. Assures me that she is eccentric to be sure, but harmless. He cleans her windows and once asked her if she spanked her monkey, which he meant in the form of discipline, then realized it had come out wrong. She didn't notice.

The monkey sat on the counter, took the money from his handler and gave it to the cashier, which she thought was adorable. He took the change with an outstretched hand and tucked it into a coin purse held ou t by his handler, jumped onto her shoulder and they walked out the door.

I envy her. I really do. She is living life. She didn't need me or anybody around her to approve or applaud, she is content and she has nothing to prove. This is the way I want to share the gospel, with nothing to prove.

I was pondering a section of scripture over the past several days. It appears in Luke chapter 10. Jesus sends out 70 of his disciples, without shoes, without money and instructs them to be totally dependent on the kindness of strangers. They were told to enter the first house they came to, pronounce a blessing of peace and if it was received they should stay and eat what was put in front of them.

This seems counterintuitive to our modern way of thinking. These disciples were sent to pray for the sick, cast out demons and spread the gospel. They did not have any promotions, did no market research and essentially had nothing to offer, other than their message. They were penniless hobos.

Why would God ask that of them? Here is what I think. It wasn't about them, and that was the point. In our modern world, we get way hung up on appearances. We rate people based on what they wear, or don't wear; the things that they say, the music that they like, the list goes on for days. What I think Jesus was trying to prove was that the message, and not the messenger was the real issue. In other words, if you hear a hobo, who has nothing to lose and nothing to offer you, share a message and you recognize it as the truth. Not just truth, but the kind that will make you sell your business and chase after it, then you really get it.

Hearing a message, well produced with a little backup lighting and a slide or two, laden with pop culture references and some sweet music in the background can definitely get our attention. But what about a guy just showing up in your living room with no shoes, claiming God sent him? Yeah, no wonder there were instructions for handling the ones that threw them out.

So why is it, with the wealth of examples we have Biblically that we just don't seem to understand that God's messenger is not the issue, its the message. Maybe we have missed the point. Now, God help me remember this the next time I am tempted to write somebody off as having nothing I need, because they just drank after a monkey at the seven-eleven.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

The Church, the NFL and the Ultimate Battle for Good and Evil.

“I hate sports” - Disciple Howry, the Edge Church Sunday Sept. 19th

While I cannot agree more, it was a brave statement for a man who resides in Oklahoma. It isn't so much that I hate sports, which as anyone who has studied anything about relationship knows, would actually show that I am passionate about them, and therefore some part of me must love them. I, am completely apathetic to sports. Don't care who wins, don't care who loses and never have. I realize this is a sacrilege to many of you. Let me explain.

As a young man I played sports. I played baseball, basketball and soccer in team athletics and was okay, not the best by far, but not a complete loser either, but it just didn't appeal to me. The contemplative type of thinking that I thrive at is completely unwelcome in any team sport. I would be the guy who had to admit that the other team flat outplayed us, or that I had indeed committed the foul. If I was gonna play, I would give my best, but to me it was a game and nothing more.

You see, I have always looked at it like this: team sports are an archaic hold over from our days of tribal warfare. In this sociological ritual, we assign ourselves allegiance to a group of people that we may, or may not, be loosely geographically connected to. They in turn go out and do battle with a neighboring tribe. Now, in the old days, this would all end with the spoils of the defeated tribe leaving with the victors, including the chiefs daughter who would be wed to the opposing leaders off spring to forge an alliance. Today, we just trade trophies and “bragging” rights. I, would rather watch a good movie.

Now, granted the old way, was not very efficient, seeing as how the decimated enemy would hardly make an adequate rival for the next outing, since what players had not been made permanently “ineligible” due to fatal injuries were “drafted” to play for the opposing team. But the stakes of these conflicts would have at least made some of the absurd salaries being handed out today make a little sense. Can you imagine if the winning team got to pick the best players up and carry them off the field from the defeated team, talk about building dynasties.

While I certainly do not begrudge anyone the right to laze around on a weekend afternoon watching guys beat each other senseless, it seems to be an opiate of sorts. We attach so much meaning to the rise and fall of our favorite teams and many fans which, by way is short for fanatic, more on that in a minute, will set aside a huge portion of their income to spend on tickets, pay per view, team paraphernalia and other expenses, such as mass quantities of food and alcohol related to being a follower of a sporting franchise.

The word fan is interesting. Its root, fanatic is defined thus, by Encarta: 1.extremist: a holder of extreme or irrational enthusiasms or beliefs, especially in religion or politics. I think this fairly describes most serious sports enthusiasts that I have met in my lifetime. It seems that we are much more passionate about our vicarious living than our actual life at times. We would think nothing of publicly expressing an opinion of another's allegiance, as advertised by a T-shirt or cap. In fact I saw two guys, one in red and crimson, one in orange and black about to throw down, just inside the gates of a local theme park, based on a snide comment one made in passing.

My wife and I are part of what is known as a “neighbor group” at the Edge Church where we attend. Currently the group we are part of is reading Donald Miller's book “A Million Miles in a Thousand Years”. In the book Miller outlines what happened to him after his successful memoir, Blue Like Jazz became a sensation of sorts, but was followed by near failures, leading him to believe that he was a failure. Through the course of events he stumbled upon a concept. What makes a good story makes a good life. That may sound a little simplistic on its face, and it is. What he explains is this, when a character in a story wants something badly enough to give up everything to get it, and when that quest also includes a sense of the importance of others as equal to oneself, it leads to a life that is well lived. It creates an individual who will be actively missed when he is gone.

Back to sports. We have all heard it said, by some well meaning evangelist, that we should be just as excited about worship as watching our favorite sport, or in my case a really good movie. I agree with this, but maybe not in the way they were using it to drum up emotion for the meeting at hand. On a deeper level we should be seeking out a connection with the ultimate conflict between good and evil.

Now, before you rush out to buy the latest Christian T-shirt, album, bumper sticker or tickets to the hippest gospel concert or conference, hear me out. As my friend Mannaseh over at said, “Corny, done in the name of Christ, is still corny.” I'm talking about the real deal.We are being actively recruited to be a part of the team. We don't just sit back and cheer God on and booh the Devil, we get to suit up and play. But, unfortunately most of us are on the bench. On this team, unlike the Santa Fe Wolves, under the leadership of a team of men including my good friend Andy Rasmussen, we decide when we play.

That's right my friend, while God may occasionally put you aside to rest, it is you who makes the decision whether to engage or not, and there is room on the field for everyone. Many of my friends have expressed disappointment with Churches that don't give them opportunity to serve. Don't make the mistake of confusing what the institution you call church will allow you to do, for what God has called you to. Unfortunately they can frequently act more like a traditional sports team, where the coach chooses his top players and it is a cold day in hell before some guys see even one second of game play, and that is wrong.

It is my opinion that this type of “coaching” is what is killing the Church of America. We have elevated these men to positions God never intended, then given them the authority to keep us from our God ordained destinies. Rather than pitch a fit, find what you want to do, whether it has the name church on it or not, remind yourself that you are the church and get off the bench. While watching a game may be exciting and is certainly one way to relax, any real sports fan will tell you that playing is where its really at. I, for one, am aiming to collect the spiritual equivalent of an NFL all star salary in changed lives, and I am willing to bring anybody with me who wants to go.

I would finish this off with a cheesy sports idiom, but that's not my style. So, from a director friend of mine, Chad Anderson, here is his encouragement to actors going out to face an audience. “Let's get out there and melt some faces!”

Monday, September 20, 2010

Which Way Do I Go From Here?

Trust God with everything that is within your power. Don't trust your own intellect, knowledge or wisdom above his leading. I everything you do, look for him, when you find him, point him out. He'll show you what to do next. -Paraphrased from Solomon in Proverbs chapter 3

This is my life verse. I have always wanted to be the type of follower who wanted God's wisdom on everything. NO, I am not talking about the loony tune who prays to decide what icecream flavor to eat today, but when it comes to decisions that will impact more than the next hour or two of my life, I at least want to take into consideration what God has said to others in the past, and might be saying specifically to me right now.

I do this better at some times than others. Have you ever gotten so busy that you look up and suddenly realize that you and God haven't had a real conversation in a while? This seems to be more common, in my experience, among believers who have walked with God since childhood. We've always been aware that he was there, but like your mom, or your wife, you have this vague impression that no matter how you react to them they will always be there in the same way.

Recently I have come to the conclusion that I should be much farther down the road in my walk with Christ than I feel right now. There are habits that I have intended to shed, like extra pounds, for years. Not all-consuming, life shattering habits, but things that if you heard me name them would either; make you feel better about yourself; or make you run and hide when I come calling for fear that they are contagious. Having grown up as a minister's father, even scripture becomes old hat to me. As fresh as it can be, it can be a struggle to even crack the binding once a week. It isn't like I'm not dwelling on it, cause I memorized enough of it as a child (entire chapters) that it seeps out of me into conversation.

The last few days I have been struggling with what is next for me, in my life, work wise, vocation wise. Those that know me, know that I pursued a life in theatre for fifteen years. Well, more like twenty-five, but I really only got paid for it for fifteen. In January of 2010 it became evident to me what many others had already realized, that it was no longer financially feasible for me to keep running down the road I was on, the bridge was out. This came as a huge shock. It took several months for me to even admit that it was over. This wasn't a job, it was who we, as a family, had become. IT was our vocation, our hobby and our ministry all in one, but it had also become an idol.

When we pursue anything the way God wants us to pursue him he becomes jealous. He isn't the jealous I would be if my wife decided to chase another man, which is good, because it means I, unlike the aforementioned imaginary man-whore, get to live, with all of my body parts. So, that was my dream, my (I still believe) God-given dream since I was fourteen years old, what now? (I asked this question last night on a long walk, at one in the morning, my response? Crickets! Literally, the sound of crickets!)

I feel that I know what is supposed to be next for me. It is a thing that I have felt called to since childhood and have feared that I would end up doing. But, I am not sure I am ready, nor has an opportunity even been given, it is just an impression that I have. And as I listen to the words of Solomon I wonder if this is God, or just some left over childhood fantasy.

Here is what I do know. My one regret in this situation that I find myself is that the only hesitancy I have in jumping off this cliff into the great unknown, into this calling, is that I have not kept myself ready. I have not been in the gym, (spiritually speaking) keeping up with the workout regimen required to make these kinds of life changes and I am afraid of who I have become, and his showing up at unexpected moments in my life.

Now, before you start imagining me as a pedophile, realize that I am the same guy who never tasted alcohol until he was well over thirty, never had any inappropriate relationships with another woman. (and what my wife and I do is none of your beeswax) I have never stolen anything, tried to pay my taxes, (by which I mean to the best of anyone's ability to figure out what the heck that means) taught my children right from wrong, and have tried to be kind to everyone who doesn't completely piss me off, and asked for forgiveness from those people, so...

But still, there are days when the weight of my thoughts, the things I have said and done, the burden of my own sin, the knowledge of what I would be personally capable of if not for the constraints of the love of God, knock me to my knees and I am overcome with the guilt of my own sin. The enormity of it strikes me and I rest in the knowledge that were it not for the loving, willful sacrifice of the Son of God on my behalf that I would walk into an eternity apart from the forgiveness of God and that I would deserve every second of it.

Knowing that Isaiah told God, on the occasion of his calling, that he was a man of unclean lips, that Peter on the night before Christ's execution cut off a man's ear in a violent rage and then proceeded to cuss out a number of young servant girls, that Moses was in the desert hiding out from a well deserved murder rap when he saw the burning bush, and that the first thing Noah did after leaving the ark was to get drunk and naked: makes me feel that I am in good company, it also lets me know that I had better get my crap together, because I have already told him I was willing, and IF I am truly hearing him, then he will move me in this direction whether I am completely ready, or not.

You may have heard it said before, but it is a Truth: God equips the called more often than he calls the equipped.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

If Not Us, Then Who? Machete in a positive light!

"Machete is messy, violent, shallow, and tasteless -- and that's precisely the point of one of the summer's most cartoonishly enjoyable films."

This, from rotten tomatoes, a website that compiles reviews and gives scores to movies based on the percentage of negative to positive reviews. So far, the gore fest, directed by Spy Kids creator Robert Rodriguez, is getting above average scores. This quote is only half of the story.
As anyone who knows me already understands I can find something to gripe about in even the most benign situations,and something to inspire in some of the most interesting of places, I really tend to see both sides of every coin and if you talk to me long enough, you are likely to be confused, which is where I live most of the time. Life is a paradox. Too much religion tends to turn people into nazis and roses grow best when surrounded with crap. The world is filled with things that are that should not be. As Solomon put it, he gives us beauty for ashes.

So, against what's left of my better judgment, I went to see this film the other day. Not that I put up a heavy protest. It is more my artistic sensibilities that were straining against the idea than my personal moral code. Make of that what you will. Anyway, I was invited by our missions pastor, so I figured, what the heck.

There was more blood shed in the first five minutes than world wars 1 and 2 combined. And it only got more interesting as the film progressed. Rogriguez is known for his over-the-top, take-no-prisoners style and if that's what you're looking for, you would not be disappointed, but that is not why I am writing about this film. As the story unfolds it is a typical revenge driven, male macho, ultimate justice fantasy. Machete wades through “bad guys” like a lawnmower through six inch grass. But, there is more to it than that.

Anyone who has ever read Rodriguez's film making book, “Rebel Without a Crew” about how he made his first feature, knows there is more to this guy than what meets the eye. First of all, he is making the movies he saw as a kid, for a new generation, granted that list does not seem to include Mary Poppins, The Apple Dumpling Gang, or Herby Goes Bananas, but that's what he's doing.
Sometimes it is easy to judge someone elses actions in light of our own prejudice, or upbringing. As the old saying goes, “Didn't your mother ever tell you...?” For instance, I worked with a guy who grew up in the back room of a strip club. He's a christian now and works in outreach to people in that lifestyle, but, because of his background, good or bad, I bet he is not nearly as distracted as I would be, were I to follow him to the places he goes, which neither I, nor my wife, think is God's plan for me.
Back to Rodriguez. In his book there were several moments when he would say that things just worked out for him. Anyone who has ever had any dealings with the Holy Spirit would immediately sense God's call and hand on this guy, while he may, or may not, be paying attention.
Anyway, in this film , the first scene features Machete and a second, unnamed federale about to bust into a Mexican slum to rescue a girl being held hostage by garden variety scum bags, his partner says, “Why this girl, why does it matter? We don't have to do this, you know?” (I know this because it was conveniently subtitled in English) Machete's reply was incredible: “If not us, then who?” Followed of course by loving interactions with his fellow man that lead to copious amounts of blood being spilt and an emergency room bill that I cannot even begin to fathom. I actually thought during the scene, wow am I old.
If not us, then who? Wow, talk about a wake up call. Forget the rest of the movie, although in my opinion there was probably more political commentary in that piece than anyone will ever give it credit for, not saying I agree with all of it, but it makes you think. But forget all of that and let's talk about this phrase.
I grow weary of the oppressive nature of our society. While I know that every generation feels, to some degree, that the changes the yahoos after them make are bad. But, I think we are experiencing more than that. We are in a place right now where it is acceptable to commit, or go along with, all kinds of atrocities, big and small, because, “I just work here” or “I don't make the rules” or “That's company policy”.
We treat people poorly. We don't pay out on insurance they were told (Or should I say sold?) would take care of them, never mind the details. We take from those who can least afford through excessive late fees and surcharges and overdraft protection. We refuse the customer refunds. We threaten, bully and otherwise harass well meaning, law abiding citizens in the name of doing our jobs. Our police seem to have taken to beating people in the streets (which I relaize may be justified at times) We take taxes from each other to take care of problems, then turn around and ask for more, cause it wasn't enough. With no account of where the first money went. Never mind that we have already taken more than anyone can afford.
In case you hadn't noticed I use the word we to describe these crimes, because that is how it works. We want the government to be “of the people, by the people and for the people” when we are holding “their” feet to the fire, but what about us? We have gone along with every bad idea with hardly a whimper. Have you ever read Proverbs or studied Jesus sermons? There is a lot of “woe” coming unto people who oppress the poor and take what isn't theirs.
Back to Machete. I want that attitude! I want to say, when I see injustice or a neighbor in need, “If not us, then who?” In fact, Disciple, I know you are reading this, I asked Disciple (The missions pastor who invited me to see this film) on Sunday to give me the Spanish phrase for this, which he said, but I had to look it up.
This phrase should come out of our mouths on a regular basis. You see, the system we live under only works when every citizen is willing to be accountable, not only for his own actions, but for holding his leader's accountable too. And while I think we should vote, understand that evil companionship corrupts good morals. That means that we send good people to Washington and they send them back to us broken and remolded, unless we hold them accountable.
This is true in our churches too. How many of you have ever wondered how much should be spent on that new building, sound system or what ever, when there are so many needs to be met? A friend of mine, Boe Parrish, is pastor of a unique congregation, if you can even call him that. Mr. Parrish has determined to spend the money that comes in on better things than a fat salary for himself. Daybreak Community church works with a volunteer staff and is striving to make a difference with every penny that comes in. He put it like this, “I just figured out that the traditional model of ministry was too expensive” he went on to break it down to the cost of every soul won. I have never thought of it like that, but it makes you think.

I am not proposing a specific solution, nor am I attacking anyone. I am challenging each of you to look around, the next time you see a problem and look for a solution, no matter how small. Instead of writing letters to complain about what they are doing wrong, try praising leaders for what they do right, or support something instead of opposing something. Try the “whatever things are good, whatever things are pure, noble of good report...” method that Paul suggested., but mostly just be willing to get involved. Be willing, metaphorically speaking, to pick up your machete and wade through some bad guys!

si no nosotros, ¿entonces quiĆ©n?  (feel free to correct this, it was from an online translator)

If not us, then who? LLS

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Public Cell Phone Conversations as Prophetic Utterances

This one is dedicated to my friend Tammy Hott. Tammy, I try to say what I hear God say, I ask the questions that are on my heart. Some times that is encouragement, some times it is a rebuke (mostly aimed at me), some times, it is just a way of reminding the world that I am still here, and sometimes I miss God completely and do the whole clanging gong thing Paul talked about. Anyway, here is what God is talking to me about today, it's a little kinder and gentler.

One of my great pet peaves of the modern world is cell phones. I do not enjoy being interrupted by them, listening to one side of stranger's conversations and getting less than stellar service from workers who cannot be bothered to live their private lives “off the clock”. This is partly because, as my wife said to me the other day, “You were born old, and I will probably never grow up completely.” I admit it, and anyone who's known me for long will agree that I began to show signs of Crotchity behavior in my mid-teens. It is also because this behavior is undeniably rude.

For example, last night we are sitting in Chick Fil-a in Edmond eating our dinner when someone begins a very loud, one-sided conversation in the dining room. I look up to discover that it is, in fact, the manager of same restaurant. He is discussing personnel matters and making snide comments as confidently as if he were ensconced in his own office. “That's disturbing.” I say. “Shut up, he'll hear you.” says she. I do. Not because I care if he hears me, after all, it is his behavior as he tips the phone away from his mouth to ask a customer what soda he is drinking and clumsily takes the cup for a refill, one-handed, that is deplorable, and if he is offended by my opinion of his caddish habits, so be it. But. I like sleeping in the same bed with my wife.

This doesn't trouble me greatly. I simply file it away with all of the other scenes from life that populate my head, and come out as plays and sketches, and finish my dinner and go to bowling, which we do every Monday night. I don't think about it again until this morning. I am sitting in the dentist's office waiting for 5 of my 8 kids to be seen when a scared young mother, seeing how calm I am and how many children I have, strikes up a conversation. She has a two year old with a cavity and is consequently feeling like the worst parent on earth. I reassure her that she is not the first and the fact that she is even aware that this is unusual, let alone is concerned about her role in it, is proof positive that she is not even in the running for Bad Mom of the Year.

The conversation is pleasant enough. We speak of country life, hers not mine (I'm somewhat envious), squirrels and the like. Half an hour later we are joined by a bold, brassy blond with a no nonsense attitude who is griping her apartment super out, on the phone, for a plumbing issue. She looks like she belongs in Jersey, not here. She has two boys with her and when she is done on the phone she joins the conversation. She is interrupted, after a five minute diatribe on the glories of apartment dwelling, during which she apologizes half a dozen times for her language, which she doesn't mean, (I know this because if she meant it she would make some attempt to curb it, we are in a pediatric dentist's waiting room, even the biker chick with at least nine “old school” tatts and leather pants is glaring)anyway, she is interrupted by her phone which has an unbelievably loud ring tone, featuring Pitbull.

This other mother, the one who was seeking reassurance, is a mousy little thing who keeps shooting sideways glances at this intruder. The first mom tries to talk a little more, which is difficult because blondie is loud! She is airing her laundry about her fifteen year old son and how he is going to get kicked out. We find out that he is smoking pot, has had sex with his girl friend on the living room sofa and calls his darling mother a “F'in B” (now she curbs her language) this last is apparently the last straw and he is going to need a place to live or she is going to need: “..a shovel, what do you think for? (pronounced FOAH, like Marissa Tomei in My Cousin Vinney) To bury the body.”

Just as I am about to get up and say something, she wipes a tear from the corner of her eye and God taps me on the shoulder.

Here's the deal. I have been saying for years that the reason that fringe groups get so vocal, and sometimes downright violent, is that we (the church) don't pay attention any other way. They have to carry protest signs and wear giant slogans on T-shirts before we realize that they are hurting and we need to do something. But, it isn't working anymore. We are so busy with “life” that we simply cannot take the time to care. We won't decode their subtle hints and offer a helping hand, so they have started shouting it from the housetops.

Think about it. How many times have you prayed, God I wish you would bring somebody across my path today that I can minister to only to be shoved aside in the grocery store aisle by some woman on a mission, ranting about how her no good boyfriend keeps going back to his wife? I realized that not only are they hurting, but I don't even need a “word of knowledge” to know what the hurt is. They are walking around talking about it. They are shouting about their divorces, their kids, their jobs, their botched plastic surgeries, and all the while I am hoping they will shut the heck up! I have been under the mistaken impression that they were not talking to me, that it was none of my business and I would like to keep it that way.

So, as my last kid comes out and I gather up my laptop, with a sleeping daughter on my arm, the young mother says, “Thank you for the advice, I feel so much better.” I tell her thanks for the conversation, I didn't really want to work anyway. Meanwhile, Blondie is: “Oh, we're going to get married, Tyler is walkin me down the aisle (this, we all know by now is the 15 year old thug) if I let him live that long!”

At the risk of being rude, I tap her foot, which is extended and bouncing, she looks up, “I'll pray for Tyler.” I say. She smiles, whispers thank you and she is back to the phone, “Well, he better like it, I'm marryin' Mark (her Mark not me) with the pastor and everything, we already had our premarriagell counseling.”

“God, please help Tyler not to kill his mother, and help her to find some middle ground with her son before it is too late, but mostly God, please show Mark a way out of that situation, or give him the intestinal fortitude of a marine drill sergeant, because he is going to need it.” (that is a joke and not what I actually prayed for them, just sayin...)

Monday, September 13, 2010

Co-opting the "F" Bomb for the Kingdom!

The constant use of obscenity is a sure sign of a weak mind grappling with concepts that are too big for its vocabulary- Mark Morris

Feel free to quote me. That's right, I said that. I made it up, wrote it down, printed it out and taped it up in my toolbox, in the cabinet shop I worked in, where every body could see it. That's right, Mr. Popular, that was me. I spent my early twenties working in this environment, which was like a total immersion into the obscene, and profane, world of adolescent male behavior. I grew up in a Preacher's house. I heard my dad say “the d-word”, one time, when I was twelve and was certain that he was angry enough to kill one of us in that moment, it was that shocking.

Recently it seems that society has kicked politeness off the bus. We use whatever language occurs to us in the moment. Regardless of where we are, or who is listening. (I am using “we” here in a very broad, “We the People” sort of way) I have heard the “F” word in line at the grocery store, standing in line at the post office—which I could almost ignore, given it was inside the post office-- and once from a very large gentleman of color, as I entered a public restroom. He was on his cell phone, but, my distinct impression was that it was aimed at me, and I nearly did not reach my intended destination before it was too late.

Any student of history will understand that we are in a back-swing against formality, and that this constant use of graphic language and shocking behavior is a reaction to the restraints of the past. You may be thinking, “What restraints?” It is my opinion that It will pass, like all fads, including giant tattoos.

A week or two back one of my former acting students, who is now a married mother of two, posted a link to a video of a song with this caption: “Don't listen to it if profanity offends you” this is like a double dog dare to me, so I follow the link, read a short story about Cee-Lo, the songs author, and boot up the video prepared to “shut 'er down”. The song, which is entitled “F***You” is about a guy being jilted by the girl he loves and watching her tool around town, with her new, improved, rich boyfriend. He had been passed over for a guy with more jack.

Now, honestly, I liked the song, I know that makes me a heathen, puts me in need of repentance and ruins my chance of ever being seen as a role model in many circles, oh well.

Men, let's get real for second. How many of you would not want to use a few choice words on the gold diggin ho who abandoned you and the man who stole your woman? If my wife were swept up under the spell of some rich guy and I saw them tooling around town in his Benz, it would make me want to immediately take everything that was not nailed down to the nearest pawnshop, trade it for as much noisy car audio gear as they would give me, bungee cord speakers to the top of my car and follow them down the street playing this song on a loop wherever they went. No. It isn't right. I realize I should be home praying that she will come to her senses, and her boy toy will find Jesus, and that Jesus will give me the strength not to run him over with my car...

But, like I said, I was immersed in profane language long enough to become nearly immune to it. Now, I don't swear like a sailor. In fact most people who know me have never heard me utter anything more fierce than a “snap” but.. I'd be lying if I didn't say that occasionally a good expletive really hits the spot. An occasional “Hell-o kitty” or “Dam-over the river kwai” have escaped my lips, I am not too proud to admit it.

When I first entered the “Wonderful World of Woodworking” it took about six months for God to convince me that I would not burst into flames or be sent on the Amtrak straight to hell for not correcting every foul word that proceeded out of the mouth of my workmates. I was always asking things like, “Do you really want him to place his oral orifice on that particular region of your anatomy and ...” you get the idea. Most guys avoided me and those that didn't found out that, to carry on a conversation with me, they were gonna need some more words.

I've been thinking about this casual use of the F word, for a while now, and I think I have finally come up with a way to combat it without making everyone think you're a narc. We need to co-opt this word. Many groups these days are in the habit of reengineering the definitions of words to suit their purposes. A few that are well known: gay, choice, sale, savings, and patriot. (as in patriot act)

I think it is high time that we as followers of the one true God and His Son Jesus, on both sides of the political spectrum, took advantage of this tactic ourselves. Here is what I propose. The “F” word was originally coined, or so the legend goes, during the plague in England when brothels were shut down to prevent the spread of the disease. This did not set well with some important people, who convinced the Crown to acquiesce, and leave a few choice ladies of the night open for business. These establishments bore a written edict “Fornication Under the Consent of the King”. Which got shortened to its modern version, known in polite circles as the “F” word.

I suggest that to avoid confusion we simply replace the first word in this acronym with the word forgiveness. Forgiveness Under the Consent of the King, kinda catchy, no? Imagine strolling out to get your mail in the morning.

Neighbor: Good morning, good neighbor. Fine morning, is it not?
You: Yes it is, F*** you!

You could greet just about anyone with this newly reminted phrase. (keeping in mind the new meaning that you are simply expressing God's grace)

The marketing possibilities are endless. T-shirts bearing slogans such as:
Jesus Loves You! F*** You!
You get the idea. Now, of course I am being facetious (that means I'm joking), or am I? I am sure that, if a campaign were thorough enough to redefine the term, it would pass out of public usage post haste, much as the original meaning of the word “gay” has.

While this may be ridiculous to you, (I hope it is and you are not writing me a nasty comment that I will be forced to delete even as I type this), but why is it we focus so much on the meaning of that “f” word while ignoring the erosion of the meanings of a few others like “faith”. We believe that faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen, is given in measure to each man by God and is a prerequisite of pleasing god, but we have allowed it to be bastardized almost beyond recognition.

A “man—or woman-- of faith” is simply someone who claims belief in a moral code, real or imagined. We are quick to ally ourselves with anyone that walks under this banner.

What about the word friend? I am not opposed to online social networks. In fact I have a list of a few hundred friends myself. (It could be more but I choose not to accept the friend request of every pitchman and ho with a soft-core porn site that blanket invites everyone they can make a connection to) If I'm honest, these are mostly people that I used to be friends with in a past life, or who share a connection through enough other people that I feel like I should remember them, or people who post funny replies, or...

When scripture says, “there is a friend that sticks closer than a brother”, or, “greater love has no man than to lay down his life for a friend”, I don't think that it is referring to a few hundred people that I can find some nebulous connection to. I believe it is supposed to be more than that. At the least, a friend is in the same category as a neighbor, is it not? We are commanded to love our neighbors, in a go out of your way to help out with things you would rather not with a good attitude, sort of way.

Before you hit the delete button and send all of those “friends” into facebook purgatory where they will have to prove themselves worthy of being friended by you, consider this challenge. What if we were to treat every single person on that list as if they were our real, honest-to-goodness, real-life friend. What if we took the time to say Happy Birthday to all of them? What if we made it a point to check their page every now and then, congratulate them on their wins (job promotions, college graduations, birth announcements...) and empathize with their losses (death in the family, house fire, divorce...) What if we rejoiced with those who rejoiced and mourned with those who mourned? Offered to help them move, give them a place for the night, invite them to Sunday dinner, helped them fix their car or fence or marriage? What would happen?

See, that is the kind of concern I think God has when it comes to how we use words. In my opinion he has better things to do than keep score and chalk up debits in some cosmic “cuss jar”. But I think, just maybe, when we use words like, faith, hope, love, Jesus, forgiveness, repentance, righteousness, holiness, the list could go on, flippantly, I think that grieves him more than things like the casual use of obscene language that we get hung up on every day.

Friday, September 10, 2010

The best response to Terry Jones.

Yosemite Sam was good, but this is perfect. I will sully it no further with my remarks.

How to Win Friends and Influence Muslims!

Do not be eager to be thought of as a teacher. Don't you realize that those of us who teach will be judged more strictly by God and man? (paraphrase James 3:1)

First of all I know I'm a hypocrite for even writing this. I preach against making insulting comments about people whom you have never met, but I kinda feel like I know Terry Jones. So that out of the way...

For the last several days a very serious battle between the forces of good and evil has been playing out right before our eyes. I am of course speaking of the war between gravity and the roots of the hair in Terry Jones' mustache as it struggles to prevent the hairy monster from crashing to earth taking his face with it and revealing to the world the tiny little child that is piloting this “pastor's” body.

Who else but a third grade boy could be so ridiculously self centered as to hold the entire world hostage with a threat of setting a fire? Not since the days of elementary school have I witnessed such blatant playground politics.

First Terry calls names and threatens to burn the “bully's” prize possession on the premise that this particular book is filled with evil and “God” told him to do it! With the exception of a couple Old Testament prophets, when has God ever needed press releases and conferences to gather a crowd to witness a stunt like this? And, correct me if I'm wrong, but when they did get all theatrical and lay siege to a model of the city, wear a linen belt and roll around in the dirt, etc it was always to call God's people to repentance, not to point out how heathen the heathens were.

I'm quite sure that had “Pastor Flipflop McWaffle Jones” ,or “Flippy” as he will be called for the remaining duration of this blog entry, known what a stink he could raise , he probably would have realized that god's revelation (I refuse to capitolize the “g” because I don't think God with a capitol G has said anything this guy has listened to in a while) was really relating to the ten year anniversary of the World Trade Center attacks, and taken another year to promote and schedule his book tour, or at least get a proper banner printed for the side of that butt ugly trailer. Or perhaps he would have hidden under his bed from sheer terror of the threats that would come at him from both sides. But this guy is eating this up!

I'm not a shrink, nor have I played one in my extensive acting career (unless you count one three minute youth sketch sometime in the early nineties), but it is my guess that wanting this kind of attention is the reason that this guy became a pastor, to “Speak for God”. Now, I'm pretty sure that God is less than approving of the message this guy is pronouncing and I'm a little less than thrilled that people all over the world are linking him to things that I believe in, very deeply, myself. So I felt perhaps it behooved me to distance myself from this type of lunatical behavior. I say this type, because there are other types of which I whole heartedly agree, I will explain in a moment.

SO ANYWAY! With a clear word from the Lord as to the proper course of action Pastor Flippy schedules his event. Then, when it becomes even clearer that the only people who are in favor of him doing it are just the ones that want video of him being roasted on a spit, over the burning qurans, to add to their Youtube channels, he flips. Apparently a local Imam, or as it Flippy so eloquently pronounced it in one interview Islaammic Immen, spoke with him and told him he could arrange a chance to meet the leaders behind the Ground Zero Mosque. Flippy sees this as another sign from God and announces to the world that this fine fellow has assured him that they will be moving the mosque as long as Flippy agrees to put down the lighter and step away from the blowtorch.

This is where it gets really interesting. Whether Pastor Flippy thought that saying this aloud would force their hand, or he knowingly lied, or he was deluded into believing that he had single-handedly saved America from the Islamic scourge, we will never know. IT didn't work. The Imam in Florida and the leaders in NYC were quick to denounce pastor Flippy and let us all in on the fact that the man is a liar, delusional, or both, no such agreement had ever, or ever will, exist.

Now we have reached my favorite part of the story. After telling the world that god told him to burn quarans, because they are evil and convince Muslims to kill people...(like this nutbag can't do that without help from an ancient holy book?) Pastor Flippy McWaffle Jones claims he is disappointed, nay , outraged that these Muslims (who are evil, remember?) have LIED to him and now it's ON! (the book burn that is) or maybe not, but unless they move the mosque he is definitely, maybe considering a bonfire that may or may not contain books that closely resemble the muslim koran. They LIED to you? What do you expect? I will tell you almost anything you want to hear if I believe that GLOBAL CATASTROPHE may follow your next move, and sleep very well tonight, thankyou. Besides, I think I think it very much more likely that the ends of your mustache have become so ensconced in your ears that you only hear what you want to hear and the Imam never said any such thing.

I also think that the entire case has been overstated. I know that there are Muslim zealots who would like nothing better than to see me, as an American and a follower of Christ, dead, but...I have a feeling that most Muslims feel very much like the Islamic man on the street in London who told a reporter that the world was making a very big deal out of a church of thirty members and one Idiot. He went on to say that burning a stack of qurans will not destroy Islam. Here's what I think. A few mosques in Palestine may have dedicated their weekly “Friday Flag Flaming” in his honor, but didn't we have the same headlines last Friday?


Is it really that different?

There have always been radicals. One of them is my all-time hands down hero. He was a humble blue-collar worker from a small town. He spent his days sharing important ideas with his friends and anyone who would hear him about how people should treat each other. He hung out with a lot of people who would, frankly, not be on most of our top ten influential people lists. The first thirty years of his life he lived in anonymity and then for three years he went around pissing off both the religious and political establishment of his day, by NOT taking the bate and playing their game. They killed him for it.

Over the next decades of World History his friends would mostly be assassinated or imprisoned by the government or religious leaders. Here are a couple of key points about Him and what he taught.
He taught his followers to never return evil for evil but to overcome it with good. He taught them to willingly submit to the insults of others and to pray for their enemies. When he was unjustly accused by a Godless despotic government of treason he gave NO answer. When they beat him and cursed him and stripped him of his dignity, he publicly forgave them.

This TERRY JONES is the man who you claim is inspiring you to act like this! He won't say anything to you, because his kindness will eventually lead you to repentance. I hope. But, I am not that nice! People like you disgust me. According to reports you have lived off of more than your agreed upon share from the “temple coffers” for years. There were two priests who did that in the Old Testament, God caused fire to come from the altar and consume them where they stood. Men like you are lucky he is not in that business anymore! Please stop speaking for me. God did not tell you to burn Korans, or anything else for that matter! The only press conference you need to call is the one where you announce your resignation and repent of your misleading the people of God.

(That was spoken out of my own sense of indignation and not under known influence of God. If he chooses to use it, he will, if I am wrong, he will convict me of it and I will repent)

People, listen: in case you don't know, many “Christian Leaders” are neither! And God will call us all to account for following them. So, heed the advice of the apostle Paul when he said, “Follow me as I follow Christ” and when you see Jesus take a left when your “leader” is taking a right, get the heck out of line, put down the koran and the lighter fluid and go hug a muslim! You are not called to save, change, berate, educate, or enlighten them! You are called to LOVE! Okay, sermon over.

So now Flippy goes to New York City with his new-found muslim buddy on a commercial jet liner, wow....that sounds interesting. Can't imagine you'll have any trouble finding seats on THAT flight. And the rest of us sit with bated breath and wait to see if he will light the first match to flame the fires of ARMAGEDDON, my guess he won't, but even if he does it will blow out just like the millions of barbecue grills that were lit last weekend to celebrate the passing of Summer, and we can all get back to normality until the next crackpot comes along.

Love God
Love Others
Serve Everyone

Speaking of service, to the flight attendant on that plane with only two full seats, (you know who you are), It's customary to give the condemned man whatever he wants for his last meal.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

A Friendly Warning to "Non Theists"

Don't believe in God? Join the club.
A million New Yorkers are good without God. Are you?
Are you good without God? Millions are.
Don't believe in God? You are not alone.

These messages on billboards are stirring up a great deal of conversation. They have been railed against, complained about, and in several cases defaced by “Christians”. I can't help noticing that while the intent is just the opposite, one word is the common theme between them, “God”.

The billboards and bus ad campaign they are a part of is being run by United COR. The Coalition of Reason is a loosely knit group of “nontheist” organizations across the United States. They claim there is no intent toward causing controversy, they are simply letting us all know that they are there, that they exist. They say they are hoping to attract more un-believers to join their club.

They had better watch out. They just might get their wish. As a man who has grown up in and around all sorts of Churches my entire life, I would send them a warning, beware institutionalization, it will kill your message.

Here's what I mean. As long as you remain a loosely knit band of individuals with a common bond you are free to believe as you always have, free to carry out your life mission with little outside interference. But once you have hung out the proverbial “shingle” that's when the jello hits the fan.

Take the Christian Church for instance. For the first two or three centuries everything went along pretty much as planned. Oh, sure there was the odd stoning now and then and the whole “feeding Christians to the lions” thing was kind of a bummer, but all-in-all the Church was a huge success. They had nearly completed the great commission when they got in bed with Rome and became an institution, Church buildings, professional clergy, worship on Sundays and the veneration of the saints were just a few of the upgrades that Roman Emperor Constantine brought to the table.

What had once been a thriving, flourishing, life giving community now became something to be reckoned with, a political and social juggernaut, complete with all that that entails. Now they had real power that was recognized in the real world, by governments ans stuff, not just “God”.

What the “non theists” have in their favor now and what the early Church had going for it was the ability to live out their faith, or lack thereof, in reasonable anonymity, making converts on a one-on-one basis and sharing life together. This organic approach resembled almost nothing of what the modern church has become.

The modern Church spends most of her time responding to whatever the world is up to. We support this or that political movement, we hiss and boo at Quran burners, we wave our flags and “support the troops”. We are very relevant to the culture around us, which we are learning to welcome with open arms. We have standing in our communities, many of our leaders are respected for their political insight. We have a position on just about everything, we have to, its expected, people are gonna ask.

What we don't have is a plan to share the gospel with the hurting in our communities. We spend so much time figuring out how to cammouflauge it so that they will swallow it without knowing that we have little time left for actual interaction. We are caught up in programming and “worship experiences”...

And its beginning to catch up to the un-believers too. Already the “non theists” are classifying themselves with a list of denominations. According to there are many groups that are a part of their network:

Ethical Culturists
Free Thinkers
Unitarian Universalists, to name a few.

They have already established non-profit status and have three full time members “On staff”. What's next? I suspect, as is the nature of human institutions, that these “free thinkers” are not as free as they might think. Before too long, business owners will grow weary of them meeting in their coffee shops, and even the hardiest members will resent the coffee stains on their living room sofas, and they, like many before them will be looking for a permanent home. All the while their agenda will be forming, from loose and free to "focused" and "effective".

Once this happens, more staff will be the likely outcome. Jobs need rules and once those are written there will need to be someone to enforce them, not to mention that the heads of organizations rarely submit to rules that their members are not also asked to abide by. Before you know it they will have their own “orders of worship” if you will. It is only a short step from here to needing to establish an “orthodoxy”, print bumper stickers and T-shirts and start their own counterculture music industry to support their non-ministry. In short, they are in danger of losing their organic, homespun, community and becoming a “church” complete with heretics who speak out against their “doctrine”.

Misery loves company as they say! The more the merrier! Just don't say we didn't warn you. Look on the bright side, since Mormons are now "christians" (Glenn Beck) I'm sure we can eventually make room for you too. It won't be too long before your best and brightest speakers can share that spotlight and rake in some of the easy pickin's in the televangelist game. Welcome to the neighborhood. What kind of childrens' programs do you guys offer?

Friday, September 3, 2010

A Few Thoughts on Glenn Beck and Mormonism

This is the continuation of a conversation that began as a comment on a facebook post. I am moving it here to my blog to prevent friction with the friend whose original post it was. He did not ask me to, I thought it best, seeing as how my response is so lengthy. Feel free to comment, understand that I am not afraid of opposing points of view, but reserve the right to edit comments, although I do not edit for anything other than obscenity and unwarranted, destructive, hostile, attacks on individuals.

I am taking this a little more slowly. A reasoned discussion will bring better results and keep the bond of Christ between us intact, and out of respect to my brother Jason, whose space we are airing our opinions in, and I know he hates bickering.

First let me say that our paths have crossed more than once, we have many friends in common and I know you by reputation to be a follower of Christ and a worthy man. We are congenial acquaintances, lacking proper knowledge of each other to use the term friend in any meaningful way.

As to your comment about the Reformed LDS. While it is true that they have backed away from BY and his more aggressive teachings, they are not, properly speaking, the Mormon Church. They also still hold as scripture a book translated by a young man in the nineteenth century, through the use of a mystical pair of glasses which he claimed gave him and him alone the power to read a set of gold plates covered in what he claimed to be Early Egyptian glyphs that was delivered to him, with no other witnesses by an angel revealing its whereabouts.

A transcript of a portion of one of these tablets was seen by an expert on Egyptian artifacts and proved to be nothing like the book that the young Mr. Smith transcribed. In addition, the plates have since disappeared, taken back into hiding, so the story goes, for their protection.

This book claims to contain the history of a people on the North American continent whose lives paralleled those in Palestine throughout the Biblical era. The book says, that after his ascension and claim that he would not return until he came to judge the world, Jesus visited the peoples of the Americas, called followers and preached a sequel to his earlier gospel that revealed, among many other things, the restoration of the Aaronic priesthood for the salvation of the church and restoration of temple worship.

Mr. Smith claimed, on his own merit, to be a prophet of God and began to establish a religion. He was a known polygamist, and child molester. He was accused on more than one occasion of thievery and murder. He was chased from several other places by the authorities for fear of his 800 man army, that was supposedly raised for his defense, before his death in Carthage Illinois. He had prophesied before this that his people would establish a new Zion in the Rocky Mountains and that all the nations of the earth would be saved through it. In a disputed statement made by him, he alludes to a time when the American Constitution would hang as if by a single silken thread, ( a statement I have heard Glenn echo) so perilous would be the threat of its destruction, and that a mormon political figure would rescue it and save the world . (google white horse prophecy)

All of these things the RLDS still hold as gospel, equal to our scripture. Brigham Young, was appointed as Mr. Smith's successor, led the mormons to Utah where they are accused of many heinous crimes against native and settler alike, and became not only the head of the Mormon Church, but the territorial and first state governor of Utah after claiming that God had commanded his people to take a hiatus from the principle of Plural Marriage. This god ordained break, conveniently, occurred at the time Utah was being prevented from acceptance into the union because of their stance on polygamy.

Among the other teachings that JS brought and are believed by all mormons, to my knowledge, include the substitutionary baptism of the living for the dead. So much so that they are obsessed with collecting genealogical records, because it is believed that we can be baptized to save our own ancestors who have proceeded us in death. They have the most complete genealogical record of any on earth. They believe in good stewardship and storing up for the future welfare of their families. In fact, “home storage” as it is known, is built into a safe room in many Mormon households, including weapons. This benign organization's members are among the most heavily recruited by the FBI, the CIA and the NSA. It is no mistake why they are now “coming out” as it were, as public figures. They intend to lead and have amassed the gold and guns to fill the gap should our society crumble around our ears. Don't take my word for it, read their own literature websites and blogs. Educate yourself on the White Horse Prophecy. Understand what events they believe must take place for the lot set aside for a temple in Jackson County Missouri to be built and for Christ to return to reestablish temple worship. And then, write to Mr. Beck and ask him if he confirms that the “Holy Spirit” has revealed to him that the book of mormon is the gospel of Jesus Christ.

I have done so, repeatedly with no response.

If, after you know the facts you would still like to call Mr. Beck a Christian, then do so. My Mother once told me not to believe all of the bad things other people say about anyone unless I know for myself that they are true. I asked her if I should believe the good things and she told me I should believe them even less. Someone else's opinion, especially someone else who I have never met, means little or nothing regarding issues like this. Mr. Beck seems to be a decent man, I agree with some of what he says and find him entertaining, this does not make him a Christian. Although I probably should accept wholesale the authority of respected Christian teachers regarding the content of another man's character, seeing as how that has worked out so well for us in the past. (George W ring any bells?)

Thursday, September 2, 2010

His Side, Her Side and the Truth

Three sides, there are always three sides to every story. Her side; his side; and the truth.

Through some very interesting discussions with some old friends on facebook, I have been awakened to a fundamental shift in my thinking. They are of a much more conservative bent than I find myself to be in at the moment and are very adamant that what needs to happen is that the claws of the current leaders need to be removed from the throat of the eagle that represents this great republic so she can scream freedom once again. I tend to agree, that politically I am not all that comfortable with the way things are heading. I am not inclined to agree wholesale with their philosophy because I have fundamental differences of opinion on several levels.

First, they operate with the understanding that the political ideal they see most closely aligned with the Word of God is conservatism. Second, they believe that since conservatism, from their perspective, is closely related to the will of God that the opposing point of view must be diametrically opposed to it. This, my brilliant friend Dr. Barret Huddleston, Phd. Informs me, is called oppositional thinking.

This theory works well, as long as you are able to determine which is the right side to be on and then allow the other party to play the opposition. Otherwise you end up being led around by the nose opposing whatever absurd stand this other person takes, even if it seems to be in agreement with your own philosophy, you cannot agree, because if they are right, then who is wrong?

In the political climate, as it stands today, the Democrats stand on the liberal side of the proverbial, and literal, aisle and the Republicans stand on the conservative side. We stand there and throw stones at each other, we are not even trying to drag one another across the line, because then where would we be? It is a stalemate, designed to stay that way.

What about other options? There must be another way than what these two largest groups are saying. That, we are told, is political suicide. Don't vote your conscience, you will only be throwing away your vote, because one of the two will win anyway. Here's a question. If, as a believer in Jesus, I do not vote my conscience when it comes to something as important as who makes the choices that may effect my grandchildren then pardon my french, but, when the hell do I use it?

The “right” is working under three assumptions: A: God is interested in preserving the American constitution and political system. B: The system can be saved, and C: Things will be better if we put it back the way it was.

What if we put it back the way it was and we find that there was a lot wrong with this whole enchilada? (not saying there is, just asking) What if we tear the claws away from the throat of the eagle and hear a gobble instead of the grand scream we were all expecting? I know that many conservatives pride themselves on being Truth seekers.

In my experience this is true of them to a point. That point is this: Once they have become convinced of something's veracity. No matter how little evidence, experiential, Biblical or otherwise there is to support it, and no matter how much evidence there is stacked up on the other side that they may even agree with, a one legged man in a butt kicking contest would have a better chance of winning than you have of convincing them to give up their belief. Oppositional thinking.

I am not suggesting that the liberals have been right all along. Dear God, I hope not. But maybe there is a third option, or a fourth even, that we have not explored. I know what you are going to say “Tea Party” but I think that ship has sailed. I think the big idea people have taken it over and it will soon look the same as the other two and then pass out of existence due to its own irrelevance.

What if we all got off? What if we let them duke it out between each other and just loved on both sides? What if neutrality, rather than the sign of weakness many have taken it for, is rather a sign of a man who knows that he is not destined for this world and its kingdoms anyway? I have eight children so my legacy is already assured. I will have an impact in this world for good or for evil (I'm working for good) no matter what the politicians decide to do with it.

So, I am asking God what he wants. As Jesus prayed in the garden. Lord, if it be your will that this great nation survive and thrive, then let it be! But not what I want, your will be done! Have you asked him? Really asked him? And then sat long enough for your own voice to stop ringing in your ears to listen for the still small voice? If you have and you are convinced that you are still right, go for it. More power to ya! But I think there are a lot of people who got on the bus because they saw people they wanted to be associated with, the right kind of people, getting on the bus.