Thursday, December 29, 2005

It's New Year's Resolution Time

I started working out at a gym a few weeks ago. I was gym shopping to see which one I liked. I finally chose one and signed on the dotted line. When I was chit chatting with the trainer doing my paper work, I asked him if it had been getting "busy". He told me "yes" it was picking up. He went on to say, "All the new year's resolution people. I've seen them before. It never lasts."

Whether I keep working out to achieve my fitness goals is my decision. Whether or not I follow through with the behaviors and create habits concerning physical training all hinges on whether or not I decide to keep doing it on a daily basis. This is much like following the teachings of Jesus.

The apostle Paul related discipleship to spiritual training. He talked about "running the race with patience". He talked about "gaining the prize" in the context of athletics. He even contrasted the importance of spiritual training over that of physical training. It is vital that believers today not just talk it but we must walk it. Jesus said, "If you love me you will keep my commandments". Lots of people do the religious weekly ritual of going to a church but do they really live out the teachings of Jesus Christ in their lives every day? If people who say they are God's people, i.e. "Christians", never follow through on their spirituality, no wonder there are people in our world who are skeptics about the faith. They've seen it all before. They know it will never last.

Instead of making a New Year's resolution to "be a better person" or to "read the Bible and pray more" or even to "get into shape", why not make a committment to living out the teachings of Jesus each day as opportunities present themselves? Perhaps that is what a lot of people have never seen before.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

I'm Taking My Ball And Going Home

When all of us were growing up there was quite possibly an instance we can relate to. You know it well. It could have been playing street hockey, sandlot baseball, back yard soccer or basket ball. The person who brought the ball, who owns the ball, who has the privilege of calling the ball, "my ball" gets disgruntled. They may get mistreated or upset at something. Then comes those words, "I'm not playing anymore!" When the person who owns the ball doesn't get his or her own way, they take their ball and go home.

I see Christianity in America at a crisis right now. I'm not referring to the wonderful work of God that is taking place everywhere in people's hearts through the good works of God's people. I am referring to the place of privilege that some Christians think we deserve. What do I mean by that? Please allow me to share.

The Founding Fathers for the most part were believers in God. Not all of them were but based on their writings and quotes, we can assume that most of them had a faith in God. Only a complete ignoramous could try to deny that. But these noble men set in place a system of government that allowed, in a democratic republic such as ours, for the majority to rule via the vote. At this point in our history, we have a majority of Americans that are not disciples of Christ (note that I didn't say "went to church" or "believe in God"). It is not surprising that the values of our government are no longer reflecting the values of our faith. Since things have shifted.

So here we have this quandry. We have founding fathers of a nation that believed in God and probably hoped we could truly be a Christian nation. On the other hand we have a majority of the 300 million people in the United States who do not have a biblical world view, who don't display the character and lifestyle of disciples of Christ and who have a right to vote. Our culture is being molded by power brokers and politicians who simply are not Christian. For the most part, it all came about through a legitimate democratic process. I believe that many religious Christians in America are upset simply because we don't get to make the rules now. We enjoyed power and prestige and those days are simply gone now.

For Christians in America to stand up and demand that America start behaving like a Christian nation is absurd as demanding that a fish start living and acting like a monkey. We can't expect that people hold to Judeo-Christian values just because people 200 years ago did. We can't expect people to adhere to Judeo-Christian principles just because we want them to. What is so important to realize is the reason why people used to follow Judeo-Christian values. People did so because they had a faith in God. They had an experience that changed their lives and it affected everything they did.

The goal of Christians should not be of demanding that people subscribe to our belief system so we can have a Christian government or a Christian nation. It should be to do what Jesus did, and commanded us to do...go and make disciples! We don't have a Christian nation (if there can be such a thing) because there are no disciples being made anymore. Did the early church demand that the Roman government change to accomodate their Christian preferences? Of course not. Did the early Christians in effect "take their ball and go home" because they didn't get to make the rules? Absolutely not. As a matter of fact, they took the opportunity to make their faith a very real, vibrant and true to life experience in their time of trouble. They had a chance to put their money where their mouths were and be real disciples regardless of what their life situation was.

I think it's time American Christianity had the same attitude. Instead of taking our ball and going home because we don't get to make the rules, let's stay in the arena and play the game. Let's practice more and become better at what we're supposed to be doing instead of demanding everyone else to change. So we may have to change the game plan. Isn't that what every great team is good at?

Sunday, December 18, 2005


I was driving down the road the other day and was next to a box truck on a four-lane highway. I glanced at the truck and noticed a placard. It read, "Explosives".

It was interesting that I was just feet away from a deadly force but yet totally safe. Under the right conditions and depending on the volatility of the explosives, I could be dead. But that day I was safe.

I think there are two spiritual parallels that are illustrated here. Please allow me to expound.

First of all I think there are lots of people "driving around" our lives that we pull up beside and we see it...they are explosive. Say the right thing (or the wrong thing), drive the wrong way, take the parking spot or whatever it may be, unbeknownst to us, we've created the "right conditions" and we sustain injuries because of the explosion. If we follow the teachings of Jesus Christ and exhibit the fruit of the Spirit of God, I think, despite our volatility, we can remain or become "safe" people.

Second, I am reminded of the power of God. It truly can be a deadly force. Remember the guy in the Old Testament story who, when the ark of the covenant carrying God's presence was coming back to town, went to steady with his hands the teetering box? WHAM! Struck dead as a door nail. Or how about Korah and his sons who rebelled agains Moses and God opened the ground up and swallowed them up? Don't forget Annanias and Saphira who lied to the Holy Spirit and were struck dead. God can be a deadly force.

But just like driving beside the box truck with explosives, we need to realize that with God, we are safe. Adam and Eve became afraid of God in the garden when they sinned. Prior to their sin they walked with God. They were friends and companions. Sin had made them fear God. Now knowing what God is capable of should put fear in our hearts but we should remember that Mankind's first interaction with God wasn't out of fear, but out of friendship.

Fastforward a couple of thousand years and in walks Jesus Christ, the second Adam as the New Testament calls him. This second Adam has come to do a couple of things. First he has come to let us know that we can be transformed into "safe" people buy a relationship with him and reflecting his character. Secondly he has come to tell us and show us that, instead of being afraid of God, we can be friends of God. In fact, Jesus himself referred to his disciples as "his friends".

There is a contingent of Christianity that believes that, although God has restored our relationship and friendship with God through Jesus Christ, they are the going to be the kind of people that instill fear into people. They want us to drive up beside being afraid he's going to explode instead of feeling safe. They want people to believe that God is an "unstable and volatile chemical compound" just ready to be upset and explode.

The biblical "boil down" is this, through the first Adam, sin and death entered the world and, subsequently, a fear of God. Through the second Adam (Jesus), sin is overcome and the relationship to God restored. And what kind of relationship was that? Read it. It's right there in Genesis. God walked with Adam in the cool of the day. He didn't loom over him ready to pound him to bits. Jesus called his disciples friends. Read it. It's right there in John 15: 14 & 15.

So, make sure you become and remain a friend of God.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

I Went to Jail Yesterday

It's true. I was in jail. But it's not what you may think, you see, I was a visitor. I was there for an hour and a half and then I got to go home. The people I visited were young, some teenagers. Some were in gangs. Some stole some things. Some were busted for drugs. The point is they were there for a Bible study (they were believers) and I got to leave.

As I was there, and especially after I left, I felt a bit ashamed. After what I'm about to say, I hope all of us are ashamed a bit, at least those who claim to be Christians. I love Rick Warren and the Purpose-Driven Life. I read it twice. I think the Prayer of Jabez thing was cool. I have a copy of it somewhere. I think Joel Osteen and "Your Best Life Now" is a great idea. It's still on my shelf, haven't read it yet. So please don't misunderstand what I'm about to say. While many of us (me included!) are finding our purpose, getting our best life now and praying our little fad prayers to get all prospered and such, we (me included!) aren't focussing on living out the teachings of Jesus. Look at what Jesus said...

I was sick and you came to me.
I was in prison and you visited me.
I was thirsty and you gave me a drink.
I was hungry and you fed me.
I was naked and you clothed me.
When did we see you naked, hungry or in prison?

"When you have done it unto the least of these, you have done it unto me."

So let's get up to speed everybody. The world needs us and it isn't necessarily coming to church on Sunday! If we look at each of the things in the list above, it required something of the person doing the visiting or clothing or feeding. It required a bit of effort, time and perhaps even, money or resources.

I went to jail yesterday.

I am ashamed.

I need to start doing it unto the least a little more often. Anyone with me?

Lunatic Left-Wingers vs. Right-Wing Nuts

In America today there is constant bickering. You hear about "lunatic left-wing liberals" from "The Right" and you hear about "raging right-wing nuts " from "The Left". With all of this fighting going on, who gets to be right? Who is the enemy? Who's the good guy?

"The Right" say all kinds of things from the conservative mindset and attack the "Liberals" for what they stand for. If you look at some of what the liberals stand for, in some ways, it's a lot like what Jesus stood for. No really, think about it just for a moment.

Give money to the poor.
Don't say hateful things about other people.
Make peace instead of wage war.
Help those in need.
Don't condemn people who live alternative lifestyles.
Women have an equal place in society.

On the other hand (the "right" hand?), what "The Right" stands for is sometimes contradictory to what Jesus taught.

Be a rugged individual, earn money and you need not share. Others should do the same, fend for themselves.
It's your property, you earned it, keep off.
Freedom of speech baby. It doesn't matter if I offend you or not.

Now I understand that "The Right" has some redeeming qualities too but that's not my point. My point is that even though people on "The Right" may not like to admit it, people that lean a little left may really want to make a difference in the world and that difference may look a little like how Jesus would do it at times.

I think this kind of political divisiveness between Right and Left has no place in Christianity. If, as the Bible says, "our citizenship" is not of this world, but of the kingdom of God then why don't we act like it instead of getting bogged down in the whole "Left/Right" thing? We will miss opportunities to see the beauty of how God can knit us together if people get sucked into this way of thinking.

I go to a church where people vote Democrat because they're Democrats. There are people who vote Republican because they are Republican. Where in the Bible does anyone get to say one is better than the other? It doesn't but people sure are treated that way sometime.

There are people in my church that are pro-abortion. They support a woman's right to choose to have an abortion if she wants one for whatever reason. There are some who are pro-life. I don't care who you are or what political or moral persuasion you are of. Everyone who comes to a church has the right to be accepted, discipled, loved and cared for without being condemned, brow-beaten or mocked.

I'm glad that, even though I live in Massachusetts (typically a "Left" state), I can go to church with all of my Lunatic Left-Wing and Right-Wing Nut friends and we can just be brothers and sisters in the Lord. You can be of the political persuasion of your choice. Just don't drag those dividers into church.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

She Misses Their Messes

This morning I was talking on the phone with a woman from our church about her involvement in some things. She was telling me her history as a singer in a few churches in New York City. Her story included names and places that are familiar to a lot of people. She was raised in Brooklyn and just a few years ago relocated with family to Massachusetts.

One of the striking things she shared with me about her story is wrapped up in her quote to me. She was sharing how much she loved to share the love of God with people. Her words to me were, "I miss being with people with messed up lives." What a quote. What a heart! If anything exemplifies the heart of Jesus, this is it. Being with drug addicts, alcoholics, prostitutes etc. for the purpose of sharing the love of God is what made her "tick". NYC has lots of people with problems. So does New England. They really aren't that hard to find either.

I don't want what I'm about to say be misconstrued by any means. We have to have tools to carry out the Great Commission. Church buildings and technologies are an accepted means of being culturally relevant and when used correctly are effective. But let's not fool ourselves either. Religious Christianity has built buildings and put the names of the wealthy donors of those buildings on the walls. We've fund raised for our "stuff" so we can have nice carpets and elaborate, ornate furnishings. We've created a religious culture of how to look, how to appear to people, how to be "right". We've drawn lines about who is "saved" and who is "unsaved". We've developed rituals and routines to ease our consciences and for decades all across this country we have had people who "go to church" and are "religious" but aren't living like Jesus lived.

Jesus said, "I have come to seek and save that which is lost." He also said that it is the sick that need a doctor. In other words, he came to be with people with messed up lives. Facilities and tools will never take the place of people who just want to love people back to life. One man goes to work in a Mercedez-Benz while another takes public transportation. The fact is, they both get to work. The vehicle is merely a tool to get the job of "getting to work" done. The problem rests in the person who thinks he succeeds when he has nice things. The measure of success for the Church isn't "how many nice things do we have?", it's "are we making disciples?"

As we purpose to bridge gaps, repair breaches and reconcile people back to God we welcome those who want to see the sick people made well. With open arms we welcome you to help us seek and save that which is lost. We thank God for those who miss people's messes.

Sunday, November 27, 2005


Have you ever watched the 2005 movie version of War of the Worlds? There is one scene where Tom Cruise's character is running through the streets of the city and the tripod robot aliens are shooting people with their lasers. The instant the laser beams hit a person, their clothing goes flying off as they are instantly vaporized. One second they are there, the next they are gone. Vanished, like a vapor.

"How do you know what will happen tomorrow? For your life is like the morning fog (vapor)--it's here a little while, then it's gone."

James 4:14 NLV

Several years ago my dad's brother had prostate cancer and is so far, now cancer free. My aunt had cancer a while back and recieved treatment. Thursday she has had subsequent bowel surgery due to the treatment. Three weeks ago a family friend tried to take their own life. On Wednesday my parent's close friend of over two decades just died from liver failure due to Hepatitus C. This Sunday night a friend from a former pastorate is on his death bed after a stroke. He has lived most of his life with no legs and one functioning arm. He is spending his last days withering away in a V.A. hospital. Last month a 13 year old boy in our church was diagnosed with bone cancer and another friend is waiting for a liver as he has liver cancer. These are examples of people that you would say are "close" to me, either through a family connection or church connection, that are suffering from life-threatening or life-ending health issues. On top of that I've seen close friends and relatives die, I've buried an infant and a thirteen year old boy. I attended the funeral of an 18 year old freshman college classmate tragically killed in an auto accident. It doesn't seem like it's supposed to be this way. Life really is like a vapor.

"And if God cares so wonderfully for flowers that are here today and gone tomorrow, won't he more surely care for you?"

Matt. 6:30 NLV

Life is short. Make it count. Live like Jesus. And don't forget, God really does care about you and all that you're going through.

America's Ugliest Bathrooms

Right now I'm watching "America's Ugliest Bathroom" on TLC. The whole point of the show is to discover the worst bathroom in America, gut it and remake it, brand new, from scratch. When the host enters the bathroom they are met with toilets that used to be white, shower stalls with scum, mold, mildew and the works. Basically a health hazard. I'm wondering if these people even see it or have ever thought about cleaning their bathroom! I'm shocked at a couple of things.

1. People tolerate some pretty bad bathrooms.
2. People have no shame or embarrassment at millions of people seeing it.

When it comes to Christian spirituality I see some parallels here. I think all of us have a propensity to acclimate to our messes. It may be the stuff in the car, the clutter in your house, the mess your schedule is in etc. When it comes to our spirituality it may be things like our vices, our "secret sins" and their results. It may be our toxic relationships or our habits. We humans, if we look at our lives at some point, have tolerated some pretty bad "bathrooms" in our time. Because we've been so used to it we haven't even had the shame or sense to hide those things.

The great thing is, that like all bathrooms can be introduce to "Mr. Clean" or even a complete makeover, our lives can experience the same thing. The Bible says to be "washed with the water of the Word." It says that through the word of God we can be "transformed by the renewing of your mind." The word of God can and will do you a great service if applied on a regular basis to your life. There are those who seem "stuck in their stuff" all the time. They tolerate their situation, their circumstance. I think my wife said it best when she said, "You deserve what you tolerate."

Bathrooms are supposed to get "used". The fact that there is traffic in and out of there is a given. And likewise we get "used". We live in a fallen world. There is traffic all around us, things going on, temptations, triumphs, falls and failures. What do we do with all of this stuff?

Well, we're not bathrooms but we all have souls to be cleansed. I guess the prophet Isaiah (1:18) said it very well when the Lord through him said, "Come now, let us argue this out." says the LORD. "No matter how deep the stain of your sins, I can remove it. I can make you as clean as freshly fallen snow..."

So I guess we all at some point have "America's ugliest bathrooms". We just don't have to tolerate it!

Friday, November 25, 2005

This is My Idea of Going to Church

This Thanksgiving holiday I was finding myself clearing a Thanksgiving Day blanket of snow from the front walk of our church. Wanting to get a bit warm I went inside. There I saw a couple of ladies who had been setting up about a dozen or so round tables, cloths, centerpieces, place settings etc. Why was this all going on? What would compel two ladies with families, as well as the other expected volunteers, to come in, work and give up precious hours on Thanksgiving day? Well in the words of Connie (one of the ladies) it's simple. As she walked by me setting some things up she said, "This is my idea of going to church".

This activity was one of the most recent accounts of unselfishness I've seen in a while. These people were setting up and throwing a Thanksgiving Day feast for truckers who are not able to be home for this holiday. The holidays are an ironic time of year. In Christian speak we say things like, "It's a time for giving and sharing" or, "It's a time to remember those who are less fortunate and be thankful for what you have." That's all true and great but for the most part, it's always said and never actually done! How many of us actually find ourselves imersed in a private or organized effort to give and share? Well, a lot of us do it once a year. That's not a bad thing.

The striking thing about the lady's idea of going to church, ie. serving people a meal that they otherwise wouldn't get, is exactly what the teachings of Christianity tell us to do. Jesus was constantly eating with his disciples and providing food for the thousands who followed him to hear him. In James 1:27 it says, "Pure and lasting religion in the sight of God our Father means that we must care for orphans and widows in their troubles, and refuse to let the world corrupt us." Taking care of people without family is what it's all about. In Mark 12:30 Jesus said to love God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength and also to love your neighbor as yourself.

So, to the ladies who gave up time with family and friends to provide a meal for and be with some people who had no family or friends around them, I salute you! Thank God for people who don't want to just go to church, but rather, want to BE the Church. And thanks also for reminding all of us that we really can do more...when we realize it doesn't always have to be about us.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Starbucks Can Teach Churches a Good Lesson

I love Starbucks. Some people are Dunkin Donuts fans but not me. Starbucks is the greatest thing that ever happened to coffee, and maybe even the country. If the Bible was written today and the Israelites were looking at going into Canaan and I was one of the people who spied out the land, I'd come back and say, "Tis a land filled with grande-non fat-no whip-mocha". Now that's a Promised Land!

On my day off I have a routine. I drop the kids off at school, go to the bank, fuel my vehicle and treat myself to one of the reasons for living...the grande-non fat-no whip-mocha. This past day off I did my usual and took the disposable holy grail afixed with the sleeve as to not burn my hand, and drove to run an errand. I let my beverage cool for a few minutes while I drive down the road. Then, the moment, like a kid at Xmas, like a couple on their wedding day, like... OK maybe I'm overdoing it here...I took the sacred sip! Instead of enjoying what I expected to be my chosen drink, I had a cup of hot chocolate that cost me $3.68! Not that I don't like hot chocolate. I just didn't expect that after I ordered it. The problem was that there was no espresso. What's a man to do? Don't be messing with a guy's espresso.

So as I drive to my errand I remembered another Starbucks location that I would pass (the Lord provides our every need). I stop and go inside. I explain to the nice lady at the counter what had happened. When I asked how much a shot of espresso would be, she said, "We'll just make you another drink" (insert kid at Christmas analogy here). I almost could't believe it. It was a chance for a profit. An opportunity to capitalize on my dilema for another $3.68 but she didn't do it. I felt so taken care of. So appreciated and honored that inspite of a mistake at one place, it was important to the company to make good on my expectation. It was so important that the face at the counter made sure it happened for me.

Why is it that more churches can't be like Starbucks? We have people who attend some churches and are offended and hurt only to leave and find another church where they get offended and hurt. There are some people who say that "these people just need to stop being so easily offended." Then when these offended people leave it seems to never be the church's fault. There is never a person involved beside the offended one. The apostle Paul in his writings in the New Testament ALWAYS put the responsibility of not offending people on the MATURE believers. He didn't blow off or dismiss the offended ones.

My church isn't perfect (seeing that I'm there and I know who and how I am) but it's vision to bridge gaps, repair breaches and reconciling people back to God sure does make a difference. I see it every week. We have made it a soft place to land, a place for hurt people to heal, offended people to grow, burned out people to regroup and wandering people to land. What makes it this kind of place? I think it's like Starbucks. It's the face(s) behind the counter. The people are more concerned that people come here and are honored, taken care of, cared about and encouraged. Whether it's one of the pastors, the greeters, the ushers, the welcome center people or whomever, they all speak the same thing...we love you. We want you taken care of while you're here, however long that may be!

So the next time you see that green and black circle with the "seductive siren of coffee" in the window of Starbucks, remember how they make you feel. And try to do that same thing wherever you go! People are coming to our churces with an expectation of love and acceptance. They stop by thinking they got burned at the last one so they are bracing for this one. Let's not give them anything else than what they expect of a loving church. If we do, don't act surprised if they go somewhere else.

Starbucks coffee "grande-non fat-no whip-mocha" is the official coffee of Velocity and its director.
No compensation in any form was paid to Velocity or its director for mentioning "Starbucks" in this column although it sure would be nice since he visits so often and spends as much for a gallon of milk he could be using for his kids for one cup of coffee!
Starbucks vs. Dunkin Donuts in a cage match...Starbucks always wins.

God Can Wash it Off

This past week I started doing myself the favor of getting a bit healthier. Having always loved athletics, sports etc. in high school and college, I thought it would be good if I started working out. My friend gets me this pass for a week to a local gym. I go. I work out. I get reaquainted with the phrase "no pain, no gain".

On day one I pumped the iron. I didn't overdo it. On day two I did a few different excercises (so as not to overdo it). On day three, four etc. I cycle through my routine. The part I forgot was that my arms were attached to my body and were used to work different parts of the body. I worked the chest, the biceps, the shoulders, the lats etc. all by doing routines with my arms.

So one day mid-week I literally cannot straighten my arms and when I do reach for something, shake a hand, get a fork, whatever, I am in pain. The Aleve gel caps aren't cutting it, nor is the ibuprofen. At my wits end over the arm pain and lack of mobility, I make a verbal complaint in the kitchen to my wife. The whole point of this story is what happened next.

My four year old son heard me and said, "God can wash it off dad." I then replied, "wash what off?" He emphatically said, "The HURT!" There you have it. What I teach, try to model, emphasize and pass on to my kids has been caught by my four year old son. The simplicity of our faith from the words of a child. God really can wash it off!

How many times do we forget what we have been taught, what we've learned or received? Did we really learn it if we forgot? I mean we learned how to tie our shoes. We've learned how to drive our cars (well in Massachusetts maybe not!). We've learned how to speak using words and articulate thoughts verbally. Has anyone forgotten how to tie their shoes lately? Have you seen someone you work with perplexed with two laces saying to themselves "Now how does this go again?" I didn't think so. I wonder why? I think it has something to do with how much we practice those things.

God help me and you to always practice the habit of asking God to wash off the pain, the shame, the sin, the difficult things, the irritations, the sicknesses and failures. We forget that God can do it perhaps because we simply don't practice it enough. God really can do it! If you don't believe me, just ask my four year old son.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

It's Holiday Time: Let's put Christ back in our lives!

Jesus said in John 8 that "the truth will set you free." He was talking about two things. First he was talking about obeying his teachings (the truth) and secondly being free (from sin). He taught that one can't be free from sin unless he has the truth. Truth is of utmost importance. Incidently, he said that he himself was the way, the TRUTH and the life. No one goes to the Father except through him.

Truth is defined as "that which is factual". We spend so much time in the church world preparing teachings based on "truth". We have pastors that spend hours studying God's word to share the "truth". We really do want people to know the truth, the facts of the faith, in order that they be free. It's really a noble cause. It's OK. It's good.

But now it's holiday time and I usually offend someone inadvertently with, you guessed it, the truth. You see, when I sign Christmas cards and letters, emails etc., sometimes for the sake of brevity I write "Merry Xmas". "Religious" people go absolutley postal on me for taking "Christ out of Christmas". I'm not going to go into a long teaching (this is only a blog). I'm simply going to list the facts around Christmas. The facts ma'am, just the facts! If truth is "that which is factual" then I hope this truth can set us all free from religious bodages and expectations that are just not true.

The Facts on Christmas

- The disciples and believers of the Early Church never celebrated Christmas.
- Jesus was not born on December 25.
- The Church clergy chose December 25 to compete with rival Roman pagan holidays.
- Massachusetts law banned the celebration of Christmas in colonial times.
- Jesus was not an infant in a manger when the magi arrived to see him.
- The Bible never says there were "three" wise men.
- The tradition of "kissing under the mistletoe" is from ancient Druid and Scandinavian sexual fertility rites. Slow down! No putting mistletoe's not Christmas yet.
- "Xmas" is not omitting Christ from Christmas as early Christians used the Greek letter "X" (first letter of Christ = Xristos) to refer to Jesus in shorthand.
- Giving gifts was a Roman traditon of giving small tokens for good luck to celebrate the winter festivals. Eventually these gifts became more extravagant and costly.
- The little Lord Jesus plenty of crying he made. The Christmas carol "Away in a Manger" can't negate the humanity of the infant Jesus. I have two kids. When they were born, they cried. They're 4 and 7 now. They still cry.

So there you have it. The truth. So what is a person to do? I'm not a prude. I'm not a stiff. I'll have my Christmas tree and share my gifts and eat lots of food with family and friends. Why? Because it's more blessed to give than to receive. It's good to enjoy the fruit of our labor. It's good to be benevolent to those in need, especially to those of the household of faith.

The fact is that there are all kinds of occasions like Christmas that are not Christian in their genesis but we participate in. New Year's Eve, birthdays, Halloween or Harvest parties and one of my personal favorites...SUPERBOWL SUNDAY (Go Patriots!)! These are good. They are fun. The Bible teaches "whatsoever things are good, pure...if there be any virtue, if there be any praise, think on these things." Things that bring joy to us and others should be on our list of things to do.

So instead of making Christmas an idol that is polished off once a year and injected into our lives for a half a week to placate the religious expectation we've been trained to have, let's look at the facts and realize that this is a great reason to celebrate and gather with joy. But when it comes to Jesus, let's not trivialize him with things that aren't true. Let's put him back in our lives on a daily basis for he is the Way the Truth and the Life and no one goes to the Father except through him.

It's coming very soon...

Merry Xmas everyone!

Monday, November 14, 2005

Male Pattern Mullet Tale

The other day I was walking into a building behind a person. In a millisecond my eyes caught a sight that I had never really seen before. Let me explain.

In the 1980's when I was a teenager the "hair bands" and big country rock stars as well as professional hockey players popularized something called "The Mullet". The mullet was two haircuts in one in that from the front view one could see a short, well-trimmed top and sides of the head where in the back it was as long as one wanted it (oh my goodness, I just got off Billy Ray Cyrus' web site and he STILL HAS ONE at!). Before the eighties were the sixties and seventies where men and women beat the system, stuck it to the man and were at one with the universe. They also popularized long, straight pony tales on men and women. The remnants of these are found in biker populations around the country. Then there is the hair style, not of choice, but of heredity, where the real estate of the top of a man's head loses it's tenants - it's called male pattern baldness. What kind of haircut one wishes to don makes no difference to me, just be prepared for social repercussions should they come.

Now, back to the man walking in front of me. As I followed him I first saw the pony tale. Then I saw the male pattern baldness, then as he turned, I saw the front of the mullet. This guy was obviously locked in some decade. I just couldn't figure out which one. Here was a clear case of preference for "what used to be" current, in style and up to date', over "reality". Now I'm not here to host an episode of "What Not To Wear" or some make over show. However I do want to unveil some spiritual parallels here.

In the religious church world I see "male pattern mullet tales" all over the place. How often do churches use outdated techniques to reach the lost? How many times do we play music that has no cultural relevance? How many church people, board members and/or pastors say "we've never done it that way before"? I mean really, does anyone think that handing out tracts is going to get it done anymore? I'm not busting on churches that don't have the latest technology because they can't afford it. I'm not chastising people for handing out tracts either. What I am saying is that we must constantly be challenging the notion of relevance in our efforts to be the Church. God help us if our music, our ideas and our programs are locked in some decade that people of today wouldn't even recognize! If we don't, someone like me is going to come and see us from behind and write something like this.

There is another latent danger that we must be careful of. If we are totally wrapped up in style, technique and presentation etc. then we run the risk of doing things for a great show on the outside and forget what we are really supposed to be. We run the risk of being an organization called a "church" instead of an organism called the "Church".

So, yes, style is important because it is the first impression. It should be a good one. But let's not forget the substance. And for the record, there are plenty of "male pattern mullet tale" people and churches that are made of great stuff.

Friday, November 04, 2005

Louis Farrakhan Said It Best

At Rosa Parks' funeral Louis Farrakhan spoke for several minutes honoring the great mother of the Civil Rights Movement. I did a double take because I understand that Louis Farrakhan is a Muslim but the words he was speaking was the truth of God.

He quoted the words of Jesus when he said, "If any man wants to be my disciple, he must first deny himself, take up his cross and follow me." Louis Farrakhan was telling everyone in the room that Rosa Parks did just that. She denied herself. She put herself secondary to the greater good of others. She picked up her cross. Louis Farrakhan went on to describe the cross as a symbol of sacrifice. It was also a symbol of rejection. Not only did Rosa Parks sacrifice, but she also was rejected.

The unique thing about the experience was that I felt like I was watching a TV preacher, you know, the kind in the southern churches that get what they call "preachy". He was passionate and deliberate in his words. He told the congregation that we are ready to sacrifice like Rosa Parks but stop when it gets uncomfortable. We don't want to be uncomfortable. We don't want to leave the nice things to accomplish the greater things.

Louis Farrakhan is a Muslim, a follower of the teachings of Mohammed. I am a follower of Christ so we know there are fundamental differences. However I believe that here in America, religious Christianity just got "schooled" by Louis Farrakhan. When it comes to being the real deal as a disciple, Louis Farrakhan said it best.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Racial Purity is Our Nation's Security?

"Racial purity is our nation's security." That is what the bumper sticker on the back of a black SUV said Thursday morning, November 3, 2005 as I was taking my wife to work. In the middle of the bumper sticker was the tell-tale symbol of the Ku Klux Klan. Their motto is "God, Race and Nation. Not only could I not believe someone in central Massachusetts was blatantly racist in a growing African community, but they were flagrant about it! It abslolutely blows my mind that some of the KKK even go so far as to say and do their business all in the name of God.

I am not a black American and I found it offensive. I could just imagine how God thinks about it. The Bible teaches that God has made us 'one blood of all nations'. This points to the premise that we all share something in common. The stuff that runs through our veins is the same. No matter where you go in the world, no matter what color of someone's skin, we still all bleed red. We are one race...the HUMAN race!

So what makes a person so bent on bias against someone different? What turns a person to go so far as to blatantly display a disregard for others, especially of other ethnicities? In Worcester County where I live and work, it is one of the most racially diverse areas AND has one of the highest percentages of interacial marriage in MA. There must be something gone wrong in a person to not be OK with that. Wouldn't you think?

The teachings of Jesus call it sin. The New Testament teaches "How can we say we love God who we can't see when we hate our brother or neighbor who we can see?" When it comes to the subject of racial purity I think we need to realize that racial purity IS what will be our security. But I don't mean purity of an Arian nature. I'm referring to the purifying of the human race. What I mean is that we as the human race need to be "pure". All of us, no matter what ethnicity, need to guard ourselves against prejudice. We all need to behave right. We all need to have character. We all need to have integrity. We need to love each other as ourselves and instead of being divisive about race, we need to bridge gaps, repair breaches and seek reconciliation.

So if you know someone who wants to "keep their ethnicity pure", remind them that there are several billion people on the earth and their family tree probably looks like Sherwood Forest meets South American Rain Forest. And if they give you the God speech, remind them of the interacial marriages in the Bible. Remind them that God let Peter have it when he tried to make Gentiles follow Jewish Law when his Jewish friends were around and was all hypocritical about it.

So Mr. Ku Klux Klan Man, wherever you are out there I hope you have a change of heart. I hope that one day you'll understand that other people are just like you...people.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Screaming at the Trees

A man named Ron came to our church one day with a family he kind of bumped into. You see a young man came across him walking a road in his rural town. He came to understand that Ron was a homeless alcoholic. He lived in a tent in the woods of Worcester County, MA. The story that unfolds is the core of authentic Christianity. Be careful if you decide to read on. You just may learn that the most sacred acts in Christianity aren't that glamorous.

It wasn't long before the young man invited Ron to church. He accepted the invitation. So the young man arranged to pick him up in his car and take him with him. Now Ron is sitting in church with this young man, his wife and parents as well. The parents of the young man are great people with a heart to help. They invite Ron to their home for dinner not once but on several occasions.

In one instance they had invited Ron to come to church again but did not know for sure if he was coming. They were concerned about him not missing the ride so Denise, the young man's mother, went driving up the road approximately to where Ron's tent was pitched and slowed down. She rolled down her window and did the unthinkable...she yelled Ron's name at the top of her lungs. Now this might not seem abnormal but you must understand that there were no houses or apartments. It was just woods! Neighbors and passers by would probably wonder "what is up with this crazy lady screaming at the trees?"

Here's the best part of the story. Ron decided to become a disciple and follow the teachings of Jesus. This loving family bridged a gap between him and them. They helped feed him and encourage him. They found a treatment program called Teen Challenge where Ron agreed to go and be rid of alcoholism. They even bought clothes for him and drove him there and check up on his progress.

This reminds me of the story in the Bible of the Good Samaritan who found a guy almost dead on the road and, out of his own pocket, paid for some relief for the man who needed it. The down and out didn't have to qualify or measure up. The only thing that was prerequisite for the aid was the need.

I think it's time that more people get out of their comfort zones and start screaming at the trees. We might look a little crazy but to the people we're helping it is sure worth it.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Sleeping With The Enemy

Thirty nine years ago Charles Robert Jenkins walked into enemy territory in Korea and surrendered to the enemy. He left his squad, his commrades and his country behind. As he testified on 60 Minutes, he was scared to death and just wanted out of that situation. Who could really blame him? His logic was that if he gave himself over to the enemy, they would ship him to Russia and the U.S would deal with Russia to get him home. My question was "what on earth was he thinking?" He was imprisoned, made to study communist teachings for eight hours a day for about seven years. Every aspect of his life was ordered - even sexual intimacy - right down to the frequency, day and time! Talk about sleeping with the enemy! They found his U.S. Army tatoo and cut it out of his flesh with scissors. He was degraded and beaten. He became a shell of a man. Thirty nine years and a few months later he is telling his sad story with regret.

I think there are spiritual paralells to look at here. There is an enemy of all of us. Jesus referred to him as Satan. In the first book of Peter he is referred to as "our adversary". He goes about seeking who he may devour. How many times do Chirstians make deals with our enemy thinking it will turn out nice and rosie? When did it ever occur to us that the enemy wasn't that bad? When did we ever start thinking that the things that God said to stay away from were things we could dabble in? But we do because like Mr. Jenkins, we somehow get in our heads that even though it's the enemy, it'll turn out different for us. People somehow believe that because they stepped into trouble, it's God's obligation to "deal with the devil" and make things turn out right.

When a person puts themselves in the enemy's posession, don't be surprised when your plans for your life don't turn out like you thought.

We should all be reminded of first Peter 5:8 for it begins with a warning. "Be careful! Watch out for attacks from the Devil, your great enemy..." The context of this scripture was set in a church that was enduring some hard times. The writer was saying to "hang tough". He was also telling people to be humble and serve people and stick with the teachings of Jesus.

Like Mr. Jenkins, spiritually speaking, times can be tough. We can get weary doing the right thing all the time. We can get tired of fighting the good fight of faith. We can look at some of the temptations the enemy may present to us and think, "Yeah, I would like that. I need to escape this. It would be a refreshing change for once." Before we know it our refreshing change becomes a nightmare that lasts for years. We're slaves to something that we never wanted or ever thought could keep us tied up for so long. Think of the person you know who married the wrong person, took their first illegal drug, had that one night stand. You fill in the blank, whatever it is, harmless right? No problems on the radar screen right now but sure enough, if we walk across that line into enemy territory, things just might not turn out like we planned. So watch out and be careful the next time you think about "sleeping with the enemy." Just ask Mr. Jenkins. He sure has a story to tell.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Life With No Legs: When things don't turn out right

I wouldn't have believed it if I didn't see it. I've never seen a man with no legs play football. That's exactly what a recent issue of Sports Illustrated depicted. The young man ran with his hands quicker than you could imagine possible. There he was in the photo, helmet, jersey, legs! Where's the legs? I mean it literally looked like someone dug a hole on the ball field and put him in waist deep. By all standards, life didn't necessarily turn out like he wanted to at first.

The remarkable thing about this story is the positive outlook by this young football player. Although he was faced with the reality of being born with no legs, he did not take that as the final answer. He was at a disadvantage when it came to "normal" mobility. But that isn't how he was going to settle.

As I relate this to Christian spirituality, I think of people I know and love personally who were born to single-parent families, abused as children, neglected or suffered in other ways. I look at my own life and shortcomings. I observe people I know who are working hard, only to find out that life isn't turning out like they thought it would. They want to run the race but seem not to have the legs for it now.

So what does God expect of us? Psalm 103:13 says "The LORD is like a father to his children, tender and compassionate to those who fear him." Our responsibility in life as God's children is to fear God. We want his his compassion, his hope, his comfort? We must fear him. But before we jump to conclusions thinking that God only loves people who are afraid of him, let's look at what "fearing God" means. Psalm 128:1b says, "How happy are those who fear the LORD-all who follow his ways!"

So when life seems to leave you feeling "legless" and it's not turning out like you wanted it to, don't go walking away from the very source of your help. Instead of quitting and giving up on God, begin quieting yourself and looking up to God. When things aren't turning out right, turn right to the one who can really help you.

So, what does God really expect of us when life is giving us good and throwing us the bad? Listen to what Solomon said in Ecclesiastes 12:13, "Here is my final conclusion: Fear God and obey his commands, for this is the duty of every person." Don't tell yourself that you can't make it just because it doesn't look or feel like you can't. Just find another way to keep going. I heard there was this guy who was born with no legs. He runs with his hands!

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Salad Bar Christianity

Salad bars are a great addition to any restaurant. They have changed the dining experience altogether. You can go to a nice "sit down" restaurant and still enjoy a variety of items, eat light if you want and also choose to go "healthy". Of course if you want to forget all of that there is the wonder of a Chinese Buffet!

The great thing about a salad bar is that it can teach us a lot when relating it to our spiritual journey with Jesus. Think about it; salad bars offer the choice of whatever you want, the speed of a quick meal and convenience.

This brings me to my point about contemporary Christianity in America. There have been pockets of people, teachers, televangelist personalities etc. that have created a culture of Christianity that doesn't at all resemble the teachings of Jesus. We have been taught that God is there for us to get whatever we want, to have our prayers answered yesterday and all the while we don't have to alter our lifestyle one bit. Pick a teaching, be it tithing, serving, prayer, attending church, sacrificial living, sacrificial giving, putting others first etc. It's just not popular to teach what Jesus taught anymore.

Jesus' life and teachings embodied self-sacrifice. Remember, he DIDN'T WANT to go to the cross but he said to the Father, "Not my will but yours be done." Jesus didn't always rush to get things done for people when they wanted it. Remember his friend Lazarus? He let him die before he got to him. His sisters weren't impressed with that. And then there's the whole thought of Jesus the omnipresent, omnipotent Son of God for the first time ever, being confined to a physical body, being imprisoned by time and space. He died on a cross, the innocent for the guilty. He definitely altered his lifestyle a bit.

So go ahead and enjoy that salad bar! Pick and choose your favorites. Put on your plate whatever you want and leave off your plate what you will. But don't try to live your Christian life that way. I think Jesus would send us all back for a second trip.

Thursday, September 29, 2005

Where's the Christianity?

So a person from the performance industry was on the airwaves one day criticizing the Bush administration about the slow performance to aiding huricane Katrina victims. His criticism took aim at people's faith and alleged inaction. He asked the world, "Where is the Christianity?"

I'm not here to defend the president or the administration. But let me be brief and make it very clear where the Christianity was and still is.

Christianity was in the church buses that showed up before anyone else go there, including the government.

Christianity is in the pastors that open their church buildings as shelters where victims can eat, sleep and begin putting their life back together.

Christianity was in the thousands of congregations and millions of people who anonymously gave multiplied millions of dollars. Sean Penn was on location with a crew being filmed so everyone could see. Actors and singers showed up and got on TV to say they were helping. But most of the help came, and is still coming, from anonymous church volunteers.

Christianity is in my colleagues from Master's Commission ( programs all over the south and parts of the U.S. sanitizing facilities and distributing aid items.

Christianity is in the thousands of church people volunteers who take time off from work, after hours and vacation time to go and help people. No photo opp. No overtime. Just help.

So the next time someone asks "where is the Christianity" just let them know it's right where it should be, in the heart of where the hurt is.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

The Grim Reaper Isn't Scary Anymore

You've seen him. Dark robe, long white "haunted-looking" face. You can't forget the sickle in his hand. In the "Scary Movie" movies he's a caricature. He's funny. I saw him outside a local Planned Parenthood facility last week. He was there with pro-life people protesting the abortions being performed there. I pulled over and conversed with one of the people protesting. I told him that I was sympathetic to the pro-life position. He began to quote scripture to me how God valued each and every life, unborn or not. I thought, "hey, they must be Christians!" They were quietly protesting and not violent or loud in the least bit.

A couple of weeks later I drove by and saw a single protester. He was there with a placard sign covering his front and back with a picture of an aborted child. I'm not sure why but the Grim Reaper guy wasn't there this time. Maybe he was grimmly reaping somewhere else. But I digress. Back to the lone protester. As a car pulled into the Planned Parenthood parking lot I watched the lone protester. I wondered if he would block the driveway. I wondered if he would hand out a piece of literature. As I watched, I observed the car slowing, turning into the parking lot and when directly beside the silent protester, he became silent no more. His face became angered. His eyes became narrowed, his brow furrowed and he shouted something seemingly derogatory at the people pulling in. As a Christian I immediately felt I didn't want to be identified with that technique.

You have to understand where I'm coming from. I'm a pastor trying to be authentic and connect people with the love of God. I'm trying encourage others as well as myself, to live a life that is the reflection of the character of Christ. If we are, what the Bible calls, the body of Christ, then shouldn't our actions and verbiage toward others display the lifestyle qualities of Jesus? Please spare me the "you are a luke warm, liberal Christian". I believe in the precious gift of all human life. I am pro-life. But know that God isn't always on display when we get angry.

In my estimation, I think many people in American Christianity have looked at certain groups of people and exempted themselves from loving them because they are "the enemy". They are the enemy because for years, some charismatic and evangelicals have pounded a "spiritual warfare" mentality into so many of us. Everyone knows that in warfare their are enemies.

Think about it, in some popular corners of American evangelical Christianity, people are taught that homosexuals, pro-choicers, liberals, democrats etc. are our evil enemies. You should come to my church. They are all there every Sunday! The New Testament writings teach us how to overcome evil in our society in a way that seems so foreign to some. It's called "overcoming evil with good." Imagine that! Christians being kind, accepting people. The kind of people that love their enemies up close and personal instead of saying it from a distance.

You see, it costs something to love your enemies. It cost Jesus his life to love us and redeem us, his enemies at one time. To earn the right to be heard by someone we have to pay the price of relationship. Whether it's the abortion debate or some other cultural issue, we must understand that the only way to turn the tide is by changing hearts. That doesn't happen by screaming at people as they drive into an abortion clinic.

I know there are a lot of good people that want to see a lot of things changed. They are finding ways to do it too. And the Grim Reaper? Well he hasn't been back in a while. Maybe the Grim Reaper really wants to make a difference in the world and has realized that his technique wasn't working. Maybe he knows he's just not scary anymore.

Monday, September 19, 2005

Lunch With an Alleged Gay Man

He didn't come out and say it. He didn't verbally admit that he was gay. But there were many things pointing to it. After a funeral this week I had lunch across a table with a man that I think was a homosexual. He was a middle aged single man. He had worked for the Boston AIDS project for a while. Among other things, what really got me thinking were his comments on his church experiences. He had told me that the churches he was in before weren't that accepting (or not at all) of homosexual people. He had asked me if my church was accepting of homosexual people and asked me to elaborate a bit.

He had a problem with religious people who have all kinds of hoops to jump through for a person to be acceptable to God (and them). He made that clear. As a matter of fact, I have the same beef. Here is this man telling me of his experiences in churches among followers of Christ and it was a negative experience. When did Jesus tell his followers to go and be the judge and jury for people? When did he ever command us to be the ones to assess the morality of a person and meet out grace according to merit? He didn't!

When I read the gospels, I see Jesus spending time with what the religious people of the day called the worst, the despicable, the dregs of society. I see him talking with prostitutes, sharing meals with crooks and being the living, breathing grace of God to people who really needed it. Were these people "immoral" in God's eyes? You bet. Did they live lives of "sin"? Absolutelty. Just like all the rest of us. For those who were on their high religious horses he had the sharpest criticisms.

Christianity in America isn't going to have a voice at all unless we get to the core of what it's all about. Jesus did command us to do some things. He told us to go and preach the Good News. He told us to go into the highways and biways and compel them to come in. He told us to love our neighbors as ourselves and to do unto others as we would have them do unto us. I am wondering if people are seeing the reflection of the grace of God when they walk into our churches or if they are just being met at the door with a freakish stare?

Like I said, he didn't admit he was gay. He never verbally said that he was a homosexual. But I do know this. He left my presence knowing for once in his life he met a follower of Christ that accepted him just as he was and genuinely cared about him as a human being. He had lunch with a person that did his best to not condone what the Bible calls sin, while at the same time accepted him just the way he was. I didn't have to try to "fix" anyone because only the Holy Spirit can do that. All I'm supposed to do is reflect who Jesus is.

So now I wonder who he alleges me to be. I wonder what he thinks of me and what I said to him about my faith. Who knows. Perhaps he'll be telling his story some day about lunch with an alleged follower of Christ. I hope it's a good story.

Sunday, September 18, 2005

The Excorcism of Emily Rose

The new movie "The Excorcism of Emily Rose" has now been released and the television ads are showing the demon possesed Emily Rose and how the keepers of Christian religion i.e. priests and ministers, attempted to free her from her demonic prison. This is based upon a true story. The movie raised a minor furor and news channels broadcast clips of religious services from Catholic and Evangelical churches where people were in church being prayed for.

What I noticed was every clip that was aired showed ministers screaming, placing their hands on people's foreheads and trembling while shaking their heads back and forth by hand. The more clips I viewed, the more cynical I got. I was beginning to see showmanship and eccentricity. I am not saying I was right or wrong, I am simply sharing how I began to feel. Please keep in mind that I am a minister and I was having those thoughts. Why was I thinking that some of these people were, in the midst of doing good, putting on a show?

Which brings me to another instance. I was channel surfing one night and I saw a televangelist in a hotel conference having a meeting with people. I noticed that every time he spoke to the TV people, most often it was about getting out of poverty and accumulating wealth. Then there would be a break where he would offer a free tube of miracle spring water to viewers. This spring water, when applied to the person's body, would bring wealth, prosperity, physical healing, pay off the mortgage, fix the car and pay for the kids' college. At least that's what the testimonials were saying.

I turn to anothe channel and AGAIN there is another televangelist on TV. He wasn't peddling free miracle spring water. He was offering green hankerchiefs to hold while you pray. We all remember references to the old wild West days where snake oil salesmen would travel selling their snake oil saying it would heal the sick. I wonder what the difference is between these people. I mean really, where in the Bible does it say anything about spring water and green hankies being necessary for God's touch?

I've been paying attention to how people view evangelical Christianity and Christians. Time magazine did a piece on the subject. Newsweek did a story on it, both cover stories mind you. The Boston TV show Chronicle did a show on it also. It matters to me how Christianity looks to outsiders. From what I saw on TV I'm afraid we might not look too good.

The word relevant means "having a bearing on or connection with the subject at issue". Peddling spring water and rags, to me, seems to have no bearing or connection with Christian spirituality. It has no relevance. But this is symptomatic because there are all kinds of things in American Christianity that have no relevance to most people. We exhibit behaviors in meetings that make people think we're crazy. We use language and a nomenclature that sounds like nonsense to non-believers. Please note that I didn't say any of these things were wrong. I am pointing to relevance.

The apostle Paul in Romans chapter 1 said, "I have a great sense of obligation to people in our culture and other cultures..." (paraphrased from the NLT). He really wanted people to understand Christianity. He wanted to be relevant to the culture. He didn't peddle magic trinkets and make promises to people who sent in a financial seed gift of faith (It's amazing that the only way we can be financially blessed is if we send a financial gift to THEIR ministry).

Jesus went about healing all those who were sick and oppressed of the Devil. He did miracles and performed excorcisms! It's kind of like the Excorcism of Emily Rose. Whether you like the movie or not isn't the point. It's doing what Jesus did and reflecting who he is to our culture is really what it's all about. That is relevant.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

It's Just Hair and Skin

Racism is ugly. It's so tragic in it's societal ramifications. It's so wounding personally. I was astounded by such a simple observation the other day. My daughter started first grade. I had asked her if she made any new friends. She told me the name of a fellow first grader. She told me, "her hair is fake." We laughed because she was talking about a young precious African American girl in her class. My daughter went on to tell us how her friend had cute little corn rows that she liked and then "she had fake hair." She liked it.

My wife went on to tell her how African American people have skin that is darker and hair that looks and feels very different than our little blonde headed student. My daughter said something that every person in the world needs to hear. She said, "Why? It's just hair and skin." She couldn't understand how hair and skin can be that much different among people. It wasn't a big deal.

Never did a thought occur that the difference in the color of skin was wrong. Never did she ever think that her classmate was more or less of a being because her hair and skin was different. This is not by accident. From birth our daughter has been taught that all people are precious. All people mean something. They are valuable. This is just like the fact that racism is not an accident. Racism is passed from one generation to another. It is incubated in self-absorption and it is bred in hatred.

It is unbelievable that people who say they are Christians would intentionally take a racist stance on anything. Last time I checked, the Garden of Eden where humanity was born, is home to dark-skinned people all over the place. Jesus was a Middle Eastern, olive / dark-skinned man. The Bible has ancient record of past saints involved in interacial marriages.

But perhaps racism is not as far as it goes. Maybe it's a symptom of something else. Look at the broken city of New Orleans. When the floods came the looters began, I watched the news. There were hispanic-looking looters, there were black looters and yes, there were white looters. We are broken. Humanity at its core, has something wrong with it. There is a bent toward the wrong that is in all of us. It is in me. It is in you.

The same bent in someone that thinks people of a different color are somehow lesser people than they are is the same bent that made me want to cheat on a test in school or not say anything when someone gives me more than the correct change, embelish the numbers on the tax return. The same thing that is the cause of racism is the same thing that all of us have and we prove it every time we do wrong. When there are no rules or laws we are at our worst. The Bible calls it sin. Call it what you want we all have it. We don't want to follow the rules, we want to do our own thing no matter what, no matter who it hurts.

The prophet Isaiah said that "all of us have left God's paths to follow our own..." That sums it up. We want to go our own way. We're selfish.

So the next time we feel self-righteousness enough to malign a race of people because of what we saw them do on the news, remember the wrong we have ALL done but just never got caught. We're all human. We're all made of the same stuff. It's just hair and skin.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

People From the Planet Church

At a staff meeting at our church, someone remarked how a visitor found it hard to "connect" with the people in our church. At first it seemed odd because one of the things that makes our church so attractive is that people come and are accepted there. On the other hand there are over 1000 people who attend multiple services every weekend. I began to understand.

Then I began thinking about all of the people everywhere who visit churches. I thought of what visitors must see and think when they encounter a group of church people. I live in the Northeast and there is definitely a church "culture" that can be identified. If culture is the way of life of a group of people then yes, there is church culture for sure. It's almost, in some cases, that people are from a different planet. There is a language that is spoken. There are customs and sometimes in extreme cases, people look a little eccentric.

My experience with some church people is that there seems to be a time line of transformation that takes place. First of all if you are not a Christian you are not "in" with the church people. Of course to the people from Planet Church that is not good. You must come to their planet. Once you make a commitment to serve Jesus Christ you get your new citizenship. After that you are taught how to talk, dress, act, live and to stay away from people like you before you were changed. Now the goal is to huddle on Planet Church and not bump into anything else in the universe. To have anything to do with people from other planets is at least dangerous and at most treasonous. Of course I'm using absurdity to illustrate the absurd here.

I have been forced to look at reality. If the church is to be at all relevant in our postmodern culture then we must communicate with the people of our culture in ways that are familiar to them and speak their language. How many churches use "Christianese" in their services where non-believing visitors wouldn't have a clue what they mean? No wonder they feel like they can't connect. They say things like "slain in the Spirit" and "come and get filled". They say things like "you have to be washed in the blood." I mean that just sounds disgusting to a non-believer. What a mental picture that conjures!

I read that the word "communicate" comes from a Latin (?) word communus which means "common". Instead of pointing out the differences between sinner and saint and speaking our church culture language, it would make much more sense to just find some common ground, some common interest with people we're trying to reach.

Imagine that. People would think that we are really and honestly bona fide people from the same planet as they are instead of some far away place that can't be reached called Planet Church.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Good People Getting it Done.

We saw the church buses in New Orleans evacuating the victims of Katrina and the floods. They were the first volunteers there before the government brought in transportation. Talk about first responders! It is evident that there was an overwhelming response of church people, not only in the MS, AL, LA tri-state area, but from all over the country. Churches of all denominations have collectively given millions to the rescue effort. Churches have sent teams to assist in the disaster relief. Church people have opened their homes to house victims and families. They are all doing this from the bottom of their hearts. They are doing this out of compassion. They are doing this to extend love and warmth to their fellow man. Without a doubt, people of faith are joining the rest of their countrymen and helping to make a tangible difference. Dear people who love God and also people are there on site at hundreds of shelters getting food, clothes, water etc. Pastors and spiritual leaders are there to give guidance, comfort, prayer and support. It's so good to see God's people doing God's work at such a critical time. I applaud the people of faith and anyone who is running to the rescue of these victims of Katrina by any means necessary. Goodness is still here.

Now there are atheists out there that take issue with some of this activity. They are saying that these victims need food and water, not preaching. Well I have a couple of thoughts on that. First of all the pastors and chaplains with their Bible in hand seemed to be a welcomed presence as many of the victims are gathering for church services in the shelters. It should be noted that many of the people in the south are people of faith. I don't see the victims objecting to their presence as much as I did an atheist. Secondly, our faith seems to be such a motivating factor in this effort. Jesus said in the gospels, "love your neighbor as yourself." This imperative is what drives us. Can it be so bad that we find a spiritual reason to be the foundation as to why we reach out to people?

On the other hand, atheism (no belief in God or a god) as a belief system holds that we are to seek self-gratification, aim to meet only our own needs and evolve from previous life forms in a system of survival of the fittest. Atheistic philosophy (not necessarily atheist people) dictates by it's own admission that if people can't survive on their own, then it's "nature's way". Christians can reconcile their good acts by their philosophy. Atheists cannot. This brings me to an interesting point. There are people that have no belief in a god but are really good people. There is something in all of us, atheist, agnostic or believer, that just has to respond to that kind of human suffering. It transcends humanity and has to come from somewhere.

I wonder why it is that atheists don't believe. I wonder why some are so hostile to the concept of God being involved in anything. I think it would behoove Christians to take a step back and do as Steven Covey writes in the "7 Habits of Highly Effective People" to, "seek to understand first then be understood." Being people of reconciliation is more in line with what Jesus taught than being divisive. I might not understand why they don't believe in God but I don't want to be counted as another reason because of my attitudes or behaviors toward someone!

Anyway, the fact is that there are people out there, atheist, Christian or whatever faith that are working hard to bridge gaps, repair breaches and assist the suffering. Instead of harping on who should or shouldn't be doing whatever in the name of whoever, let's open our hearts, walets and whatever else we can do to end this and be good people getting it done. Whether atheist, agnostic or Christian, I think Clara Barton, the founder of the Red Cross summed it up best. "You must never so much as think whether you like it or not, whether it is bearable or not; you must never think of anything except the need, and how to meet it."

Sunday, September 04, 2005

Breaking all the Rules

I am a self-proclaimed "controversial" person. I say things to make people think about what they believe. I call them on what they say and hold them to it. I sometimes wear a silver skull ring. To some of my Christian cohorts it is bothersome. But that's OK. I guess there's a part of me (all of us?) that likes to break the rules. I question tradition if it seems useless. I mean I don't just question it to myself, I bring it up in conversation. I like to rattle the cage. In the past it used to get me in trouble. I've learned tact in my adult years.

The other day one of my colleagues came by my office door and said, "you are a maverick!" I smiled an agreeable smile. This came after I dialogued with some folks around the staff room table during a meeting and openly disagreed with people, including my boss, about some issues. The issues I took issue with and fought for were some that I were passionate about. I wanted people to see things my way. There was something inside me, the controversial, cage rattling maverick that had to be heard. What I need to be careful of is not what words people are hearing from my mouth, but what words are being perceived as being ME! You see, people won't walk away from a meeting saying, "what was wrong with those words and ideas?" No, they are going to say, "what was wrong with Bob?"

I correctly predicted in one of my last posts that some person would step forth and proclaim that God was judging the people in New Orleans for their sin. I couldn't believe it when I read the editor's note in Breaking Christian News (.com) when he said that very thing. I was so disturbed that I emailed my friend in Albany, N.Y. who connected me with Breaking Christian News. I told him that I couldn't believe he would write such a thing. My friend responded with an email where he said, "you know Bob, New Orleans was scheduled to have a gay pride parade that week." I almost blew an O-ring. I emailed the editor.

I recognize that editors and some of my closest Christian friends are passionate about things. They want to share their beliefs and convictions with people and they have every right to do so in this great country. But my concern over what Christians (including myself) say isn't in the truth behind what they're saying. I believe in the Bible. I try to live it's words and the commands of Jesus. But when believers go "maverick" on people, they are leaving an impression, a mark, a taste if you will, about what all believers are like.

The New Testament writings record in Titus 2:10 to "make the teaching about God our Savior attractive in every way." I wonder how our passoinate brothers and sisters with the bullhorns with their "repent or else" message see themselves. Do they see themselves as making the gospel look attractive in everyway OR are they more concerned with unloading all of their knowledge on unsuspecting unbelievers? I am telling you it is leaving an impression. It is leaving a mark that is making it difficult for some of us to win the right to share the gospel in a relevant way.

There was a time when I approached sin and wrongdoing with my figurative bullhorn. I was insensitive. I believed the right stuff but had no idea how to share it with someone. I knew the rules. Sinners are going to hell. God is going to judge the world. The rule was to share those facts with people and they would change. If they didn't then, to hell with them, literally.

Well, I have changed my approach. I have modified my behavior and have put down the bullhorn. In its place I try to adopt the approach of Jesus. It's a bit dirtier actually. Instead of shouting from a distance I have to get close to the lost people God loves. Instead of the clean safety of my ivory tower, I now get in the ditch with the addict, the broken husband and wife, the hurting kid. I know that in the past that wasn't how it was done but, hey, I'm a maverick. I like breaking the rules.

Saturday, September 03, 2005

Let's All Hand Out Tracts!

When I grew up I went to a church that loved people and really wanted to see change. The founding pastor was a missionary who went all over the world telling people the good news that Jesus loved them and God provides hope for all who would embrace him.

One of the constants in that church, and many like it in that day, was the infamous "tract rack". It was a wooden rack filled with little booklets with cartoon-like drawings and writings that were supposed to convince people to follow the teachings of Jesus Christ. My personal experience with these little booklets is that when I read them I got a bit scared, found that they were a little condescending and apacolyptic in nature. I am not going to evaluate the effectiveness of this mode of evangelism, nor am I going to offer my opinion. I am not here to critique them.
As time went on, the "hand out" type of literature for evangelism evolved (can I say that?) into a more seeker-friendly type. The Four Spiritual Laws booklet was born and countless students across scores of campuses in America found out who Jesus was and how much God loved them. There seems to be something missing in this whole thing that I am pretty sure we as the church are realizing. We must be able to bridge the gap to people in a way that isn't so non-relational.

So here we are. We're followers of Jesus with love just oozing out of us in the form of a cold, emotionless, non-relational and non-spiritual mode of connecting with people. Are you getting the picture? I think the church has a great opportunity here. We are dealing with a generation of spiritual seekers in our nation. If we have the mentality that that we can't get close to people, to know them, understand them, be in their world and feel as a real human being then we're going to miss one of the greatest evangelistic opportunities we've seen.

Mega churches in America have gotten this right. They have felt people's needs. They have identified with people. They have spoken their language. They offered them connection and community. They have allowed people to leave feeling like they experienced God. I think it is because they probably did. Are we surprised at how fast these mega churches grow? Why is it that some criticize the great outreach, the all-inclusive and unconditional love? Yes we all have our niche to reach and we can do it whatever way we want but it has been proven without a doubt, there is no substitute for a caring connection to a real person in a loving church.

After all, isn't that what Jesus did? He came to this earth, he became touched by the feeling of our infirmities. He felt our pain and met our needs and loved us just the way we were. I think we should try our hardest to keep it simple and do it the way Jesus did, or we could all hand out tracts.

Friday, September 02, 2005

The other day I was with my very good friend visiting his father. We had lunch and were asking how things were going. We finally got down to how things were going at his church. He said that things were good. The pastor was great, everything was how it was supposed to be but on the other hand how much things have changed. At this point he had some grave concerns with how people of faith are becoming a dissapointment. While I'm waiting for some sort of scandalous report, he said, "I can count on one hand how many men wear suits to church."

I love this man. He means a great deal to me. He is precious. He is older than I am. He's followed Jesus longer than I have. He doesnt' get it.

Who am I to say this? How can I have the audacity to tell anyone they don't get it? Well I guess it depends on what we're supposed to get. As far as I know, I, as a follower of Jesus, am supposed to love people the way they are. I am supposed to love them as myself. I am to see them as Jesus did. Billy Graham always gives his invitations to follow Jesus to the song of "Just As I Am". Christian religion has taken us from "just as I am" to "you'd better get your business straight with God...and put on a suit too."

If churches are to be agents of change and influence people to become and CONTINUE to be followers of Christ, the expectation of people to look and act like we want them to look and act needs to go. I'm not talking about moral boundaries being taken down or God's expectation of all believers to live a righteous life. I am talking about the unrealistic cultrual expectation of a bygone era to be lived out today.

Religious people continue to make up rules and regulations to control people, not help them follow Jesus. It's like Jesus set them free from their prisons of addiction, lonliness and sin and religious people put them in church lockup. It's the equivalent of the medieval chastity belt. We're saying that your purity in God's eyes is of utmost importance but we don't trust you to be able to do it.

I want to gather with God's people in church and worship God with the purpose of celebrating God's grace, encouraging the recovering, lifting up the lost to give hope. I want to see a connection with other humans going through what I'm going through and pointing them to a God that loves them just the way they are.

So if you're interested in that, come with me to my church to worship God how you desire to. Show up and be comfortable. Meet people who live on earth like you and need a God who loves them in the mess they're in. But don't worry about wearing a suit. It looks sharp but isn't mandatory.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

The New Orleans Reminder

We've all been witnessing the devestation. Like the car accident on the interstate, like the train wreck, we can't not look. All over the news we see the rising flood waters, the anihilated homes, the obliterated businesses and the literal human desbris in New Orleans, LA and Mississippi. It seems sureal to see citizens of the United States suffering in such unbearable ways. It feels like we're watching footage from some Indonesian Tsumai. But it is not.

Though it feels like things we have seen on the news from other nations, it also is a small picture of what the Bible refers to as "The Flood". I recall the story. The torrential rains, the fountains of the deep exploding and earth being covered with water. What does the flood have to do with New Orleans? Look at the destruction. People are dead. Debris is everywhere. Only this time it's different. This time there are actually people left on the earth to help.

Think about it. In the ancient deluge there were moms and dads clutching their children trying to save them. There were people trying to stay afloat. They were climbing the highest trees and mountains to escape the death that lapped at their feet yet to no avail. The entire human popluation of the earth was found, eventually, at the bottom, left only to decay and be no more.

Now to be honest I'm waiting. Forgive me if this sounds cynical but I'm waiting for religious people who claim to speak for God to begin telling everyone (that didn't necessarily ask them) how God was judging people for their sin. After all there are casinos down there and that's a sin. And we all know about Mardi Gras. How can God ignore Mardi Gras? I am waiting for the religious people to tell us all how God judged those people and it is their fault because they loved gambling and Mardi Gras.

But that's not why the hurricane happened. Were the previous hurricanes that "missed" before just God's warning shots? Of course not. When I saw the coverage on the news one of the first things I noticed were all the church buses lined up to get people out. Before FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) was providing rides for anyone, the fleet of Baptist Church buses was there to aid those in distress. If God was ticked off at those people, he forgot to tell those church people not to help them. If God was laying down some punishment, he forgot to tell the followers of Jesus in the buses to stop showing mercy.

When Noah witnessed the destruction of the world in his day, he saw God making a huge point. He was angry at all the wrong that was being done so he scrapped it and started over. When we witness the destruction in New Orleans I am reminded that God is still making a huge point. This time it is "love your neighbor as yourself". This time it is "no matter what you face, God can make a way".

Let New Orleans remind us that God loves all of us. What the world needs is followers of Jesus that will love them just as they are and help them repair the ruins of their lives. Jesus came to seek and to save that which was lost. I would hope that those of us who say we are his followers would do nothing less. Find a way to do just that.

The World's Foremost Expert On My Opinion

You tune into talk radio, television and for years we have heard everyone's opionions on just about everything. Now there are entire news networks with people all day every day giving their opinions. Whether it is an expert opinion or not it is just opinion. Perhaps you are like many people, you love it. You eat it up. You can't get enough of it. Maybe you are like many other people in that you detest it, you avoid it, you turn it off and tune it out.

Although we have developed an immunity to the whirling opinions around us, sometimes there are those that make us stop, look, listen, laugh or lend an ear. They elicit a reaction from us. Pat Robertson, an evangelical Christian broadcaster recently gave his opinion on the air that the president of Venezuela should be "taken out". Venezuelan officials raged. American officials ran for cover. That freedom of speech thing embarassed America internationally. What shall we do? Some Christians applauded Mr. Robertson. Others shrank in embarassment. As Christians, who do we really think we are anyway?

This brings me to my point. America's Christians shouldn't be preoccupied with who leads what foreign government and whether or not they should be "taken out". When believers publicly say things like that they often have to back track and re-explain a new definition of what they really meant so as not to offend - you know, like a politician. American Christians shouldn't be vehemently pursuing political agendas to give the United States a Christian government. The only way to get a Christian government is to elect one, not force non-Christian people to conform to Christian ideals. The last time I checked, the role of believers in Jesus Christ is to "go and make disciples". How many of us are doing that? Go to and find out. It will shock you.

Political pursuits are absolutely everone's right but Christians don't own America. They may say that America was founded as a "Christian nation". I wonder what the native Americans would say if we asked them how Christian the Europeans were when they came, saw and conquered? Ask the slaves who were bought and sold like property by Christians in the Bible belt. Isn't it those people who came and "Christianized" America in the first place? Yes, I realize that there are people who do things "in the name of God" who are absolutely false and wrong. But there is something else going on here that should be addressed for the good of all of us.

America's Christians should be preoccupied with repairing the broken places in people's lives through relationship with them. They should put their resources and efforts into making their private faith a public reality among those who know them. Jesus never demanded that the world act Christian but he did outline for his followers how to be one. He gave grace and love to the most dispicable people in the world and saved his harshest criticism for the most religious. Perhaps we should do the same to ourselves. Of course this is only my opinion.