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.