Monday, October 31, 2005
What I like about this site is that it provides both a moviemaking quality rating and a moral rating on the movie without being overly preachy. It also provides a general review and lets you know what may be objectionable from a Christian perspective. In addition, viewers can list their own reviews to help give you insights on what they liked/disliked about the movie.
Newly released movies typically have a review on the site by its opening weekend so that you can read up on it the weekend it comes out. By going to this site before watching a movie, it has helped me stay clear of those that I really wouldn't want to waste my time and money on. So check it out at http://christiananswers.net/spotlight/home.html.
Saturday, October 29, 2005
I do respect Christian families that choose not to participate in Halloween at all (mine is not one of them), but I wonder if there is a different perspective on it. Here's a thought provoking article that I read several years ago in CCM Magazine by a favorite writer of mine, John Fischer...
What will you do this Halloween? Fearing the worst on an evening many Christians believe celebrates the wiles of the devil, some will choose to have no part in the traditional neighborhood trick-or-treating that accompanies the 31st of October formerly known as All Hallow’s Eve.
This boycott of neighborhood dress-up and doorbell ringing is relatively new on the Christian scene, at least in my experience. As a child in an evangelical Christian home, I was right in there with all the other gremlins and witches on our block trying to scare as many Snickers bars as I could out of our neighbors’ stashes and into my bulging pillow case. And you can be sure that every home on my block was always duly prepared to be scared by us.
The anti-Halloween movement among Christians didn’t catch my attention until after my own kids had outgrown this annual neighborhood siege. So you can imagine the shock and surprise on the face of the pastor’s wife who came up to me after a talk on Christian worldview I gave last November and wanted to know what I did with my children on Halloween. When I told her I helped them into their costumes, put on a monkey mask, turned up “Ghostbusters” on the stereo, and hit the streets with the express purpose of scaring all the neighborhood ghosts and goblins before they scared me, her face turned white. Apparently what was okay for my parents in 1958 and me and my wife in 1988 was no longer acceptable Christian behavior in 1998.
The more acceptable Christian thing to do on Halloween now is to close up the house and have an alternative party for our kids at church. This is usually around a harvest or a biblical character theme--no ghosts or goblins allowed. Though I understand how this safer alternative came to be, I wonder whether a blanket boycott is the only way to handle this controversial holiday. Is this just one more time when we Christians isolate ourselves from culture for religious reasons apparent only to us? Have we really thought through what our dark houses are saying to the rest of the block? While we’re off having our alternative party, I can hear the neighborhood kids shuffling by our house, saying, “Don’t go there, they don’t give anything.” Is this what we want to be known for in the community--a dark house on the one night you can be guaranteed neighbors will visit?
My kids are older now but when they were little, Halloween in the Massachusetts town they grew up in was nothing short of an informal neighborhood progressive party. I’d start out with my immediate neighbor and his kids and then run into other parents standing outside other houses. Soon we were a small crowd making our way up and down the street while tired little feet slogged through the fallen leaves of October. By the time the kids had filled their bags, I had been in and out of a number of homes, met people I never knew, started some relationships and renewed others. Meanwhile my wife was home dumping huge handfuls of candy into open bags, raving over costumes, inviting kids to come back and visit whenever they wanted, and entertaining other parents that I missed. It was a major community event and opened many doors for fruitful relationships we were able to continue the rest of the year.
Not to diminish the reality of spiritual warfare--something to be taken seriously by all believers--but the last day of October is not a spiritual battle any more than any other day. If Satan comes out on Halloween, he doesn’t go back into hiding the next morning. Whether the origins of Halloween are pagan or otherwise, what we have today is a culture-wide event that glorifies pretending more than the underworld. It’s actually one holiday that adults haven’t taken over--the one time kids get to “be” whatever they want to be. Our participation--or lack thereof--in such a popular, cultural event is only indicative of our ability to have a good time with silliness, not a measure of our standing in a fight between good and evil. If Satan wins anything on this day, he may win more through the darkened homes of Christians than anything else.
The truth is, Christians never have anything to fear--on this night or any other--or God is not God and His promises are not true. What we should be concerned about is a retreat from our homes, when, more than any other time, it’s important to be there with our lights on and a bowl full of treats near the door. If there is a darkness on Halloween night, I, for one, am going to at least make sure that it will not be on my block, at my house.
(NOTE: For an interesting slant on Halloween origins, John recommends checking out http://www.drbilly.com/shed/halloween.)
Wednesday, October 26, 2005
In my experiences, I've found that there are two sorts of colorblindness that people refer to -- one of these is good, the other...not so much. First, there's the notion of being able to see beyond someone's race or ethnicity in order to treat them with fairness, justice and equality. This is a good thing. This is what Martin Luther King, Jr. Referred to in his "I Have a Dream" speech when he envisioned the day that his children "will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character." To treat individuals as individuals and not mistreat them based on stereotypes or racist notions is something that we should all strive for.
Secondly, there's the mindset of colorblindness where people claim to not notice someone's skin color. These are typically the same people who proudly proclaim that "there's only one race -- the human race -- and that's all I see." Because racism is seen as such a horrible sin in our culture, many white people do everything they can to distance themselves from any accusations of racism. Thus, the comments of "one of my best friends is black" or "I don't have a racist bone in my body" become the punchline lines for jokes in our ethnic communities because they hear these lines so often. It amazes me that evangelicals that firmly believe in the sinfulness of man, and can readily admit their own struggles with pride, lust, greed or jealously, cannot acknowledge even the remotest possibility that they may have personal prejudices towards ethnic minority groups.
The reality is that America has a wicked and atrocious history when it comes to race. Racism is an unfortunate part of our country's history...and it continues into today. Though we've made many strides, racism is certainly not a thing of the past. To assume that we have grown up in a country that has a history like ours and feel that we remain untouched by it personally is both delusional and naive.
Because of our history, white people can struggle with a superiority complex and those of ethnic minority groups can suffer from self-hatred. When a white person claims to be colorblind, that can be interpreted as wanting others to lose their distinctiveness and just become like them. This is why I don't like America being referred to as a melting pot. I much rather prefer to view America as a stew. You see, a stew is a dish with distinct ingredients that each have their own flavor. But when you put all these ingredients together, it tastes better. But a carrot is still a carrot; a piece of beef doesn't become an onion. Each ingredient retains its own qualities.
So, instead of us attempting to be "colorblind", we need to learn to do two things. First, we need to recognize, celebrate and esteem the diversity in our cultures. By not ignoring our differences, but by embracing them, we can appreciate one another's backgrounds and values. God made our people groups uniquely different and the ability to appreciate those different than us is a wonderful thing.
Second, while celebrating our cultures, we need to acknowledge that people are individuals and not assume that just because some is of a certain ethnicity that we can predict behavior or "pigeonhole" them based on stereotypes. Not all black people like hip-hop; not all Asians are proficient in karate; and Lord knows, I don't like country music. We can appreciate and value the differences between our cultures, yet still allow individuals be who God made them uniquely to be.
This combination of celebrating diversity and allowing people to be themselves can move us forward in helping to share the love of God with millions of people that need to meet the One who made them.
Wednesday, October 19, 2005
By Cathy Lynn Grossman, USA TODAY, October 19, 2005
Coffee drinkers could get a spiritual jolt with their java in the spring when Starbucks begins putting a God-filled quote from the Rev. Rick Warren, author of the mega-selling The Purpose-Driven Life, on its cups. It will be the first mention of God in the company's provocative quote campaign, The Way I See It. In 2005, Starbucks is printing 63 quotes from writers, scientists, musicians, athletes, politicians and cultural critics on cups for company-run and licensed locations to carry on the coffeehouse tradition of conversation and debate.
Some mention "faith in the human spirit," but none is overtly religious. Last month, Baylor University pulled Starbucks cups after objections to a quote from writer Armistead Maupin saying that "life is too damn short" to hide being gay. Warren says the idea of a grande pitch for God as creator came to him after seeing a Starbucks quote on evolution from paleontologist Louise Leakey. Because Starbucks solicited customer contributions for 2006, Warren sent his in. On Tuesday, Starbucks spokeswoman Sanja Gould confirmed that it would be used.
The cups carry a disclaimer that the opinions "do not necessarily reflect the views of Starbucks." But a few companies plant clues to Christianity in their wrappings, music or signs precisely because the owners are believers. In-N-Out Burger, the California-based fast-food chain, has included tiny notations for Bible verses in some of its burger and drink packaging since Richard Snyder, son of the founders, called for it in 1987. "He told me, 'It's just something I want to do,' " company spokesman Carl Van Fleet says. After Snyder's death in 1993, "the family felt strongly about keeping this just as he had done it" at its 196 outlets in California, Arizona and Nevada. The Bible book and verse in minuscule type "are so subtle most of our customers never notice."
One who did: Don Chang, the deeply religious founder of clothing chains Forever 21 and XXI. Five years ago, the clothier copied In-N-Out by stamping the Bible book, chapter and verse notation John 3:16 on the bottom of his stores' shopping bags: "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life."It's "evidence of faith," corporate spokesman Larry Meyer says.
Other owners making a faith statement in the secular marketplace include David Green, whose craft chain Hobby Lobby plays only Christian contemporary music in its 362 stores, and S. Truett Cathy, who advertises that Chick-fil-A sandwich shops nationwide are closed on Sundays to free employees to focus on faith and family." Americans are more accepting of overt religiosity these days, and corporations are good at figuring out how to do it with a light touch, one that's not going to scare off unbelievers," says sociologist David Halle, director of the LeRoy Neiman Center for the Study of American Society and Culture at the University of California-Los Angeles.
Alaska Airlines has put baseball-card-size prayer cards on hot-meal trays for 30years "just to differentiate us from the competition," spokeswoman Amanda Tobin says. "Compliments have always far outweighed complaints."
Tuesday, October 18, 2005
"Evangelism is 90 percent about becoming the right person and only 10 percent about knowing what to say. It's not about what you do; it's about the kind of person you are. This became clear to me a few years ago when our Campus Crusade for Christ chapter at Bowling Green State University in Ohio decided to make some changes in the way we reached out to our campus.
As a staff team, we became persuaded that a vibrant ministry must flow from real compassion and strong affection for the people we were reaching. It must flow from sincere love, in the most powerful sense of the word. But we realized that we had been training students in evangelism before they had a heart of compassion. We were trying to get them to do something they simply didn't want to do.
Matthew 9:36 tells us how Jesus viewed the lost: "Seeing the people, He felt compassion for them, because they were distressed and dispirited like sheep without a shepherd." Jesus realized they were unable to help themselves or to remedy their situation. He felt compassion. How often, when thinking about the lost, do we find ourselves with emotions other than compassion, like judgment, disgust, annoyance and even pride? At Bowling Green, we needed to first admit we were not moved for the lost like God is moved. We needed to admit, "I'm racist. I'm judgmental. I'm hard-hearted. I'm aloof."
When first a staff member with Campus Crusade, I worked at the University of Kansas, and my ministry assignment was to focus on Ellsworth Hall. To get to this particular residence hall each day, I had to walk by Hashinger Hall, another dorm on campus. You could smell marijuana coming from the windows, and some of the guys had their fingernails painted black. It was a seriously countercultural kind of place. As I would walk by the sights and sounds of that "other world," I kept my eyes glued to the sidewalk.
Then I started to think, If Jesus were to show up on campus, where would He go? Not Ellsworth, where everyone dressed like me and acted the same. He would probably show up at Hashinger Hall. So I began to interact with the Hashinger students. I created a questionnaire, asking questions like "What is the most annoying thing about Christians?" and "If there were one thing you could change about Christianity, what would it be?" I quickly discovered that most of the students' barriers to becoming Christians were not about God; their problem was with cultural Christianity.
I began to realize that I needed to see people as God sees them. This required a fresh surrendering to God, admitting I was sometimes self-absorbed. I needed to come to grips with my own insecurities, letting God change me from the inside out. Before I could effectively reach out to the lost, God needed first to reach into my heart. Jesus said, "It is not those who are healthy who need a physician, but those who are sick" (Matthew 9:12). Jesus died on the cross not to help Christians get better, but to save the lost.
If your phone rang right now and you learned that someone you love—your best friend, your brother or your child—has come up missing, what would you do? Everything would stop. Priorities and plans would instantly be altered. We would go—because somebody we cared about is lost, and everything must be done to find them. Now. Because we care.
Every day we meet people who are spiritually lost, but we don't respond to them with even half this emotion or urgency. Here's a lesson I've learned the hard way: I always speak about what I most care about. I always do what I most want to do. I always find time to eat, I never miss watching The West Wing, and I spend time with my wife and kids. If my heart is moved for something, I will do it, and I will always do it.
If Christ is our heart's passion, His name will simply fall off our lips. Could it be that we don't reach out to lost people not because of time, training or missed opportunity, but simply because we don't care enough? At Bowling Green, when we realized students didn't have a heart of compassion, we switched things around. We taught students to build friendships and get up close with the lost. We asked every student leader in our movement to become a student leader somewhere else on campus. We began to immerse ourselves into the university culture and build relationships in places like the social-justice groups, the gay community and the student government. As a result, the Christian students gained hearts of compassion and came back begging for more evangelism and ministry training.
We also redesigned our weekly meeting, making it more for the spiritually curious than for Christians. Today, the student-body president and vice president come, along with members of more than 100 different student organizations and cultures from across campus—many being individuals who would consider themselves agnostic and atheist. The university administration considers us one of the most diverse groups on campus.
We began by learning how to relate to people, understanding where they are coming from—their backgrounds, their relationships, their choices. It starts with asking good questions. For example, try talking to every person you encounter. Say hello, then see how far you can go, if it's natural. Practice interacting with people; when they talk with you about anything, draw them out. Take them deeper. As we ask questions, we will find common ground in all the areas where we agree. Then we share our lives. In this postmodern era, there is nothing more powerful and meaningful than investing relational energy and opening up your life.
Evangelism is as much a process as it is an event. In his book Finding Common Ground Tim Downs says, "To cultivate the soil takes time ... I have a conversation here ... I ask a pointed question there. I break a stereotype along the way. With everyone I meet, I am cultivating the soil and improving the climate for spiritual growth." A few months ago, after our weekly meeting, the president of a fraternity came up to me. Several of us with Campus Crusade had been hanging out with this guy for two years, and he'd always been a self-proclaimed agnostic. Then he came up to me and said, "I'm ready." At first, I wasn't even sure what he was talking about.
He wanted to become a Christian, and we prayed with him that night. Being real and being intentional about evangelism is a hard road to travel. But it's either that or stay where we are and quietly pass from this life to the next, without ever really living. Once your heart has been broken for that one lost friend, once you have cried over the helplessness and desperation of someone you get really close to, you can't shake that sense of feeling God's heart. My being evangelistic is not about feeling spiritual, significant or successful. It is always about what the lost need to know and understand. It is about their transformation, not mine. It is about the gospel message, not my fancy illustrations. It is about Christ, not me."
*This article was written with Becky Hill
I love how the team at BG has been willing to examine their own hearts and their motivations for reaching the lost. Many times, the reason we don't share our faith with those unlike us is not for lack of training. It may just be because we just really don't care enough about the souls of those men and women. Our challenge is to reach out into those places that are uneasy and uncomfortable so that the lost can find Jesus.
Thursday, October 13, 2005
I showed him how the branch that those leaves were on had somehow broken away from the rest of the bush. I explained that in order for the leaves to stay green, the branch they were on had to be connected to the main vine of the bush so that all the nutrients and water coming up through the vine could go through the branch and into the leaves.
This branch was totally dependent upon the main vine to get it's food and water. Once it wasn't connected to that vine any longer, it had shriveled up and died. The brown dead leaves demonstrated that there was no longer any fruit being produced on that branch.
I then shared with Brennan what Jesus said in John 15, "I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing." In order to see spiritual fruit produced in our lives, we must stay connected to the main vine (Jesus). When we allow Him to feed and nourish us, we will see much fruit in our lives and through our lives. That's a good lesson for a five-year old to hear ... or an adult like you or me.
Wednesday, October 12, 2005
A Better Cure Than Abortion
By William Raspberry
The Washington Post
Monday, October 10, 2005
"You know by now what William Bennett said: "You could abort every black baby in this country, and your crime rate would go down." What you may not have figured out is what your reaction to his statement should be. You could demand that the former education secretary and drug "czar" apologize, be fired by the radio station on which he made the remark and be ridden out of town on a rail. You could say: "What a wonderful solution to crime. Let's do it -- oops, I forgot, I'm opposed to abortion."
You could call for an end to the hypocrisy, noting that Bennett made crystal clear -- even as he was delivering his awful words -- that he was not recommending any such "impossible, ridiculous and morally reprehensible" action, only making a rhetorical point on quite another matter. You could challenge the underlying premise that blacks commit a disproportionate amount of the nation's crime -- which is what the Justice Policy Institute is trying to do. Jason Ziedenberg, the institute's executive director, has been making a number of points: among them that blacks are more likely than whites to end up in prison for the same offenses and that, holding constant such factors as education, employment and family structure, blacks are no more criminally disposed than whites.
Or you could tell a story.
I'd like to tell a story. Some years ago, South Africa's game managers had to figure out what to do about the elephant herd at Kruger National Park. The herd was growing well beyond the ability of the park to sustain it. The two-phase solution: transport some of the herd to the Pilanesberg game park and kill off some of those that were too big to transport. And so they did. A dozen years later, several of the transported young males (now teenagers) started attacking Pilanesberg's herd of white rhinos, an endangered species. They used their trunks to throw sticks at the rhinos, chased them over long hours and great distances, and stomped to death a tenth of the herd -- all for no discernible reason.
Park managers decided they had no choice but to kill some of the worst juvenile offenders. They had killed five of them when someone came up with another bright idea: Bring in some of the mature males from Kruger -- there was by then the technology to transport the larger animals -- and hope that the bigger, stronger males could bring the adolescents under control.To the delight of the park officials, it worked. The big bulls, quickly establishing the natural hierarchy, became the dominant sexual partners of the females, and the reduction in sexual activity among the juveniles lowered their soaring testosterone levels and reduced their violent behavior.
The new discipline, it turned out, was not just a matter of size intimidation. The young bulls actually started following the Big Daddies around, enjoying the association with the adults, yielding to their authority and learning from them proper elephant conduct. The assaults on the white rhinos ended abruptly. There's no more point in denying Bennett's implication that black youngsters are more likely than their white counterparts to commit crimes than in denying the dismaying behavior of those adolescent elephants.
Here's the point: For reasons arguably as benign as those that led to the tragedy of Pilanesberg, America's black inner cities have been denuded of their adult men. It started, in my memory, in the 1960s with the enforcement of the man-in-the-house rule, whereby welfare payments were cut off if investigators could establish that an adult able-bodied male (whether or not he was employed) lived in the household. And the de-manizing went completely out of control with the introduction of absurdly long and mandatory sentences for crack cocaine offenses and the implementation of such judge-proof policies as the three-strikes-and-you're-out rule.
The result is that huge numbers of black men are being taken out of their communities -- overwhelmingly for nonviolent offenses -- and the effect of their absence is at least as powerful as with the South African elephants. Except now we know. Social scientists across the political spectrum tell us that father absence is a stronger predictor of criminal behavior than family income, education -- or (Bill Bennett, take note) race.
And while individual youngsters can manage life without father reasonably well in many cases, few are able to come unscathed through fatherless communities . Americans are right to be worried about crime. But we'd better learn from the elephants' tale and take care that the cure doesn't exacerbate the very problem we're trying to solve."
Saturday, October 08, 2005
Unlike most African-American evangelicals, who are politically liberal and form a core constituency of the Democratic Party, white evangelicals, especially in the South, have a more complex relationship to their Democratic past. Some changed their voting habits, but not their registration, while others eventually bolted. After trying to woo them back, many discouraged Democratic politicians concluded that the cause was hopeless. Evangelical is a synonym for right-wing.To read the complete article click here.
The situation on the ground, however, is a good deal more confused. In addition to evangelicals who are convinced Republicans (like George W. Bush) or equally convinced Democrats (like Jimmy Carter), there is a third group harder to describe. Rick Warren, pastor of the 45,000-member Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, Calif., calls them "reluctant Republicans."
"Reluctant Republicans" are evangelicals who find no welcome in the Democratic Party for pro-life people like them. They are therefore Republicans by default. Yet on a wide range of social issues, these evangelicals hold positions that often find a more natural base of support among Democrats.
"Reluctant Republicans" worry about racial reconciliation in America (starting with but not limited to the churches), about global warming and stewardship of the natural resources of the planet, about the AIDS pandemic (especially in Africa) and the growing problem of AIDS orphans, about world hunger and the breathtaking poverty in which the majority of the world's population lives.
Evangelicals who want to take action on these issues have slowly realized that theological orthodoxy is not at odds with social reform, but demands it. The gospel is about justice as well as about mercy. The old dichotomy that for so long divided a personal gospel from a social one was false from the start and corrupt in its implementation.
Which means that it may be time for non-evangelicals to abandon some cherished assumptions about evangelicals as monolithically right-wing. Evangelicals are too large and diverse and changing a group to be safely reckoned in any party's hip pocket.
Wednesday, October 05, 2005
Whether we personally feel that O.J. was guilty or not or whether race played a role in the slow response to Katrina is not the most pressing question for us. We need to realize that the perspective of the white, evangelical community do not always coincide with those in the black community. The question for those of us that are white and are seeking to reach out to those in the black community is this: Are we willing to set aside our personal viewpoints that don't necessarily come from Scriptures in order to reach the lost?
Our views on hip-hop, George W. Bush, affirmative action, the police, capitalism, etc. may be very different than the lost people we're seeking to reach. Will we stay true to the gospel message that Jesus lived, died, was buried and rose again so that we could have eternal life? Or will we insist on ostracizing the lost because of our political preferences or our views of the American justice system? This is one of the unique challenges of ministering cross-culturally in the United States. We were born here. We have lived here most (if not, all) or lives and we bring with us very strong opinions on this country and how things should be done and how people should act.
When I go as a missionary to a country like Albania, I'm pretty indifferent to Albanian people and their culture. I really don't know much about them one way or another. I learn as I go. However....when I'm a white American ministering to black Americans, I'm not coming in with a clean slate. I carry past experiences, prejudices, stereotypes, and an array of fears. And, oftentimes, the people I'm seeking to reach also carry experiences, prejudices, stereotypes, and an array of fears with them.
I guess what we have to ask ourselves is if we're going to ask the lost to overcome their fears in order to hear the gospel or if I'm going to trust God to overcome my fears so that they can hear it?