Thursday, December 25, 2008

Football, God and Kurt Warner

After battling lingering injuries and back-up status demotions the past few seasons, Arizona Cardinals quarterback Kurt Warner has been back to his old form this year. The two-time league MVP was recently named to his third Pro Bowl and has re-joined the ranks of the top tier signal callers in the league.

Despite all of his accomplishments on the field, Warner is perhaps most well-known for his faith and off the field charity. ESPN.com posted a feature article yesterday detailing how his faith shapes his perspective as a professional athlete and how it affects his relationships with his teammates.

Since taking the league by storm in 1999 while leading the St. Louis Rams to the Super Bowl title, Warner's Christian faith has been the subject of a number of discussions. Since he is vocal in sharing his faith with others and frequently mentions Jesus in interviews there are some that feel that Warner has crossed the line at times into unfair proselytizing towards unwilling teammates and reporters.

In era that seems dominated by ego-driven and money hungry athletes, I find it peculiar that so many fault Warner for being so active in sharing his faith. Granted, Warner is a flawed human, as we all are. He makes mistakes and is not going to be perfect. But aren't there worse things that he could be doing than telling others about Jesus and serving his community? While I am concerned about the prevalence of athletes who give shout outs to Jesus in interviews and live lives in seeming opposition to righteousness, Warner appears to be legitimate in the sincerity of his faith. I don't know him and I'm not one of his teammates, but he generally appears to carry himself with class and integrity.

However, one of the anecdotes in the article is a telling reminder for all of us as Christians and how we seek to relate to others outside of our faith:
"This past summer, Warner invited his Cardinals teammates and their families to his home for a day of swimming and eating. Barely anyone showed up. Warner believes the perception, still after all these years, was partly to blame.
"When I asked Larry [Fitzgerald] what happened, he told me that everyone is afraid to come over because they don't know if I'm going to stand up on a podium and preach to them," Warner said. "They just think I'm going to jump up and down and introduce them to Jesus. But that's crazy. And the people who know me realize that's not who I am."
The poor turnout disappointed Warner, Brenda said. "We try to keep it normal so that people don't think we're a bunch of weirdos, but that perception is out there," she added. "We fight it every day."
He fights it in the locker room, where some teammates don't feel comfortable around Warner and giggle like little kids on rare occasions when he curses. They fight it in the marketing world, where Warner's agent struggles to find endorsement opportunities for a potential Hall of Fame quarterback with a pristine off-the-field résumé. And they fight it in the media, where Warner tries to walk the line of getting his message out to the public without alienating fans."
As I read this particular story, I, too, felt for Kurt. At times I have also rubbed people the wrong way or pushed them away when attempting to discuss issues of a spiritual nature. I feel for a guy who is simply attempting to share the difference that Christ has made in his life with those he cares about. Though my personal interactions with others in this matter have been far more positive than negative, it is challenging to be a welcoming person while, at the same time, share challenging perspectives.

The reality that Kurt Warner faces is one that is on a much broader scale than most of us face, but it is still very similar. Those of us that consider ourselves followers of the One whose birth we celebrate today have the challenge of living out our faith in word and deed among some that are mildly indifferent or actively opposed to the message we bring. Former teammate Josh McCown brings an interesting and, possibly, very accurate assessment into the discussion:
"I think a lot of people relate to athletes who make bad choices because it brings the athlete down to their level," McCown said. "It helps them feel good about who they are and what they're doing.
"On the other side, when you hear the stories about Kurt, here is someone squeezing the most they can out of their life. And at the end of the day, that causes all of us to look in the mirror. And I think sometimes we don't like what that mirror looks like. So it's easier to rip on the things Kurt does than change yourself."
You can read the full ESPN article by Wayne Drehs here.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Holding Out Hope for Detroit

As far as American cities go, it would be hard to find another one that is having as rough a go at it as Detroit is right now. With an economy in steady deadline and a population that is half the size it was a half-century ago, Motown has certainly seen better days. Having just seen a mayor leave office after a well-publicized scandal and a professional football team that has become the butt of jokes in sports bars across the country, Detroit is a city that needs some hope. And needs it fast.

Although I didn't grow up in D-Town (I was raised outside of Detroit - an hour traveling northeast on I-94), my heart is with the Motor City. Some of my fondest memories of childhood are taking of trips downtown to Tiger Stadium, just blocks from where my dad has worked for years. My wife grew up mere minutes from Detroit and went to college in the heart of the city at Wayne State University. The blue-collar work ethic and grittiness of the city defines southeastern Michigan and, thus, is part of who I am.

Our home now is in central Florida but we feel the pain of fellow Michiganders. The auto industry is what made Detroit (and the state of Michigan) what it is and the decline of that same industry is what so affects it today. Other factors have contributed to its present state:

"The roots of Detroit's current plight go back decades. Court-ordered school busing and the 12th Street riots of 1967 accelerated an exodus of whites to the suburbs, and many middle-class blacks followed, shrinking the city's population from a peak of 1.8 million in the 1950s to half that now. About 83% of the current population is African American. Detroit's crime, poverty, unemployment and school dropout rates are among the worst of any major U.S. city. Car and home insurance rates are high. Chain grocery stores are absent, forcing many Detroiters to rely on high-priced corner stores. "There's always been a real can-do spirit among our people," said the Rev. Edgar Vann, pastor of Second Ebenezer Church. "That's being beaten down right now. ... These times, unlike others, have sapped a lot of that spirit from them.""
Not only is it difficult to see the challenges that the current economic realities have brought to a large number of family and friends, but it affects us in a very direct and tangible way. As missionaries dependent upon the financial generosity of others, we feel the struggling economy as well. Over 3/4 of our financial support base is within southeastern Michigan so although our jobs might not be on the line, we feel it every time a financial partner gets laid off or loses their job.

Even with those realities, we are so thankful for those that give sacrificially so that we can engage in our ministry to college students. We have ministry partners that are on fixed or limited incomes but still give because they believe in what we do. They give because they recognize that eternity is in the balance for individuals and that their giving, no matter how small or large, makes a difference.

It is these types of people that make up the city of Detroit and the state of Michigan. We are hard workers. We are people committed to our families. We are folks loyal to our employers. We are fans that stick through thick and thin with our teams (although the Lions are testing this truth.) And we are hard-nosed individuals that don't back down from a fight. It is this spirit that defines Detroit and the good people of Michigan.

I am proud to say that I am from Michigan and that I have kids (though they haven't really lived in the state) that know where their parents come from. Detroit is a city and Michigan is a state that possesses a rich history that has helped to shape America in so many ways. From the auto industry to the music of Motown. From the greatness that is Michigan Wolverine football to influencers like Malcolm X and Gerald Ford and Magic Johnson and Thomas Edison. From Coney Island hot dogs and Better Made chips to Vernors pop and paczis.

I'm confident that the faith and spirit of the residents of Detroit will one day help this great city to return to better days. I am in no way an economic expert so I really can't speculate on what has caused the Big Three of GM, Ford and Chrysler to bring things to where they stand today. I do know that in order to see Detroit return to its previous glory there needs to be better leadership in place across the board. The residents of Detroit and Michigan cannot elect people or support leaders of business that are high on eloquence but low on morals. The recent mayoral embarrassment and excesses of selected CEO's goes to show that morality does still matter.

It is times like these that many turn to a higher power to get them through their struggles. I trust that many will return to Jesus or, for some, turn to Him for the first time. Our cars may fail us, our money may run out and our sports teams may come up short, but I believe that God is not through with Detroit or its people yet. I'm still holding out hope...

Friday, December 19, 2008

Making the Case for Historically Black Colleges

Some proposed legislation in the state of Georgia is threatening the existence of some unique colleges in the state, HBCU's. Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU's) are those institutions of higher learning that were established in order to provide collegiate-level education to African Americans during a time when those of African descent were denied the opportunity to be educated at other schools.

Most HBCU's were founded after the Civil War, although a few such as Wilberforce University in Ohio and Lincoln University in Pennsylvania were founded in the 1850's. Some of the more prominent HBCU's in the country are Morehouse and Spelman (Atlanta), Howard (Washington, DC), Fisk (Nashville), Florida A & M, and Hampton (Virginia).

The debate in Georgia presently revolves around differences in opinion as to whether HBCU's still have a place a place in today's integrated and modern society. Seth Harp, a Republican Georgia state senator, feels like HBCU's should merge with more traditional (i.e. predominately white) schools:
"Faced with a $2 billion budget shortfall, a Republican state senator has proposed merging two historically black schools with predominantly white colleges to save money. In the process, he said, he hopes to erase a vestige of Jim Crow-era segregation. "I think we should close this ugly chapter in Georgia's history," Seth Harp, chairman of the state Senate's Higher Education Committee, said Tuesday. Jim Crow refers to state and local laws that mandated the separation of blacks and whites."
Sen. Harp, who is white, is not alone in his thinking. Cynthia Tucker, an editor for the Atlanta Constitution, agrees with him. Tucker, who is African American, has this to say:
"There is no longer good reason for public colleges that are all-white or all-black"
From my perspective there are at least a couple things wrong with the thinking of Ms. Tucker and Mr. Harp. First, I've visited a large number of HBCU's and I've yet to find one that is all-black. Although non-African Americans may be in the minority, they are still welcome to apply and attend each of these colleges. In fact, one of the school that I mentioned, Morehouse, had a white valedictorian this past school year. I don't know why this is considered any different than the vast number of major state institutions where white students make up close to 90% or more of the student population.

Second, Sen. Harp infers that HBCU's are somehow inherently tainted since they were founded when segregation was the law of the land. I disagree. HBCU's have a rich history and have produced some of the greatest leaders of influencers in American history -- Martin Luther King, Jr., Thurgood Marshall, Booker T. Washington, W.E.B. DuBois, Langston Hughes, and Oprah Winfrey are just a few individuals that attended HBCU's.

Of course there have also been notable African Americans that attended state colleges (or no college at all), but for the aforementioned individuals, the HBCU environment shaped them in ways that might have not otherwise taken place. These schools have a history and legacy that should be left in tact. Similar to HBCU's, the black church was formed during a time of intense racism and disenfranchisement of black people. But even in the midst of that environment, a thriving institution was birthed that has given strength, hope and purpose to an untold number of individuals that might not have found it elsewhere.

During the Jim Crow era of American history, blacks were not allowed to attend school with whites because of racism, pure and simple. There is a big difference between the current state of HBCU's and state institutions that prevented African Americans from attending. Many black students choose to attend an HBCU because they feel like that is the best environment for them to learn and become prepared for the "real world" after college. But they also have the option of attending other schools that don't have a historic black majority. That's the point. They have a choice now, whereas in years past, that option wasn't there.

While I'm an advocate of these honorable institutions, the fact remains that these schools have to be economically viable in order to continue on. The state should help financially in a similar way that it does for other state schools. We all know that not all schools are the same nor do they all provide the same level of education. My friends that are Ivy League graduates got a different kind of education than I did at a Mid-American Conference school (although we have better football teams.) :) But, when possible, I think it is to our benefit to continue to support educational institutions that have a historical legacy that future generations can learn from. African American history IS American history and vice versa. Let us not forget that.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Americans' View on Heaven

A recent survey sheds an interesting light on the perspective that many Americans have on the afterlife. Although the United States is generally considered a "Christian" nation, many feel that heaven is not reserved for only those that claim Jesus Christ as Savior.

This survey was a follow up to a controversial 2007 study, performed by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, that found that although 74% of Americans believe in a place called heaven where the good are rewarded, only 59% believe in a literal hell. 70% believe that many religions lead to eternal life, including a surprising 57% that attend evangelical churches.

Among the other findings:
"Christian believers who named at least one non-Christian faith that could lead to salvation included 34% of white evangelicals, even though evangelical doctrine stresses that salvation is possible only through Jesus. Higher levels of church attendance made some difference, particularly among white evangelical protestants. But an overall majority (54%) of people who identified with a religion and who said they attend church weekly also said many religions can lead to eternal life. This majority included 37% of white evangelicals, 75% of mainline Protestants and 85% of non-Hispanic white Catholics.
Pew's new survey also found that many Christians (29%) say they are saved by their good actions; 30% say salvation is through belief in Jesus, God or a higher power alone, which is the core teaching of evangelical Protestantism; and 10% say salvation is found through a combination of behavior and belief, a view closer to Catholic teachings. The number of those who said actions determine who attains heaven, was lowest (11%) for white evangelicals, highest for white Catholics (47%)."
It is now clear that the pluralism in our society has greatly influenced the Christian Church. While I respect the views of others, I don't feel that all perspectives are equally valid. A careful reading of the Bible will show that the multiple-path-to-heaven viewpoint is not taught. Jesus himself said that He is "the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me" and "for wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it."

Although most major religions deal with similar concepts like treating others well and doing good, they are not the same. They do not all deal with sin, forgiveness and eternity in the same manner. One offers a Savior who died for our sins and deals with the root of our human problem. Some seek to accept the teachings of Jesus when it comes to loving our neighbor as ourselves, yet reject his teachings on addressing our depravity. The whole point of the Christian gospel is that I can't love my neighbor as myself (or even truly love myself) apart from Jesus. If you'd like to explore more about what makes Jesus Christ and the Christian faith unique click here. I'd love to talk with you more about it if you're interested.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

President Bush and the Shoe Thrower

In case you haven't heard, an Iraqi journalist decided to show his displeasure towards our Commander-in-Chief by hurling both of his shoes at him in the middle of a press conference during a surprise visit to Iraq the other day. To most of us in the West this seems to be bit of an odd way to express oneself. We're used to people throwing pies or fruit & vegetables, but shoes?!

Within Middle Eastern cultures, shoes hold greater significance than in the West and represent something much more than just what we put on our feet. In fact, even showing the sole of one's foot is considered unacceptable in polite society. So when this Iraqi sought to demonstrate his contempt for the U.S. president, he did so with that which he thought would be most offensive -- his shoes.

Apparently President Bush didn't get the memo because he didn't seem that offended by it. He was as cool as a cucumber as he stood at the podium and dodged the first shoe and then like Keanu Reeves in the Matrix, slid out of the way of the second. In commenting after the incident, the President didn't seem shaken or troubled by what had happened. He actually seemed more bothered by the attention that was being given to it. I guess after eight years of being in office he has developed some pretty thick skin.

It is no secret that I don't agree with some of our country's policies in the Middle East in recent years. However, President Bush's comments were spot on when he indicated the very fact that this incident had happened was an indication of progress in the country. Open dissent is a sign of freedom and democracy. Had Saddam still been in power and this journalist disagreed with him, do we think he'd even still be alive after a stunt like that? In any case here's the video and some of President Bush's comments afterwards. (Please click here if the video player doesn't show up.)

Monday, December 15, 2008

The Ten Commandments...of Facebook

The most popular social networking site out there seems to be Facebook. Originally created for college students at Harvard by Mark Zuckerberg less than five years ago, tens of millions people utilize this site to connect with friends. In my work with college students I have found Facebook to be a great resource since college students spend a lot of time on the site. I've also enjoyed re-establishing friendships with those from my past and staying updated on news with friends that don't live nearby.

But like any good thing, some can go a bit overboard with their use of this networking tool. Thanks to my friend Anne, I came across Cracked.com's version of the Ten Commandments for Facebook (Warning: The language on the site is crass so you might want to just look at the titles here.)

The Ten Commandments of Facebook

1. Thou Shalt Not List Every Movie, TV Show, Band and Book You Have Ever Heard Of In Your Profile.

2. Thou Shalt Not “Poke” Indiscriminately.

3. Thou Shalt Not “Friend” People You Don’t Actually Know.

4. Thou Shalt Not Use A Wall As A Private Messaging Function.

5. Thou Shalt Not Join A Billion Groups.

6. Thou Shalt Not Use Stupid Apps.

7. Thou Shalt Not Give “Gifts."

8. Thou Shalt Not Contact People From Your Distant Past While Intoxicated.

9. Thou Shalt Not Update Thy Status Message If Thine Status Hath Not Changed (Or If You Have Nothing Clever To Say.)

10. Thou Shalt Not Act Like You’re On MySpace.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Sex and Our Society

Due to the kindness of some friends of our ministry, my family and I (along with a number of our Impact staff) was able to spend the day yesterday at Busch Gardens in Tampa. We had a great time together as a family riding the rides and seeing the animals at the park.

But something concerned me during our time there. Maybe I'm just getting older or I'm looking at life more through my eyes as a father, but I was troubled by the fashion and how some of the youth at the park were carrying themselves.

While waiting in line with my four-year-old son to ride the bumper cars, there were a couple of kids a ways up ahead of us. The girl couldn't have been more than 15; the boy looked to be 16 or 17. The girl's clothing not only left little to the imagination, but they were all over each other as they wandered through the line. A number of thoughts ran through my mind... Did her parents approve of what she was wearing before she left the house? Was her father an active part of her life and how would he feel if he saw this young man groping his daughter in public? I said a silent prayer for these two kids and asked that God would reveal himself to them.

The standards for personal morality in our society have certainly lowered in recent decades. Things that once were taboo are accepted and that which used to be considered deviant is considered normal. Albert Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, was recently interviewed by New Man magazine on sexual tolerance in our society. Dr. Mohler writes a popular blog that I regularly read. Although I don't always agree with his conclusions, I find his thinking challenging and thought-provoking.

In his New Man interview, Dr. Mohler discusses how our changing views on sexuality have affected society in general and our families, specifically. Some highlights:
"Unlike the postmodern relativists, Christians cannot accept the claim that all sexual standards are mere social constructs. Unlike the marketing geniuses and advertising gurus, we do not believe that sexuality is intended as a ploy to get attention and to create consumer demand. Unlike the sexual revolutionaries of recent decades, we do not believe that sexuality is the means of liberating the self from cultural oppression. In other words, we believe that sex is less important than many would have us believe. Human existence is not, first and foremost, about sexual pleasure and the display of sexuality. There is much more to human life, fulfillment, and joy. Sex simply cannot deliver the promises made by our hypersexualized society. On the other hand, sex is far more important than secular society can envision. After all, the Christian worldview reveals that sex, gender and sexuality are ultimately about the creature’s purpose to glorify the Creator.
Heterosexual marriage has been assaulted by divorce, lifestyle, media, law, politics and customs, undermining its very essence. Of course, the attack also necessarily took its toll on the family as well. Pitirim A. Sorokin, founder of the department of sociology at Harvard University, argued that heterosexual marriage is the foundation of civilization itself. Unless heterosexual marriage is protected by law, custom and habit to the exclusion of every other arrangement, civilization is impossible. Sorokin made this point more than 50 years ago. Even from such a distance, he saw this age of perversity arising, and he argued that this age of rebellion would destroy civilization. The great question of our day is this: Will this civilization wake up once marriage is clearly understood to be the critical background and the primary target of attack? Can civilization survive under these circumstances? I would have to argue that it cannot. There is no example in the history of humankind of a civilization enduring for long when an age of polymorphous perversity is set loose."
Although many may view the Christian view of sexuality as prudish and old-fashioned, it would be hard to argue that the removal of traditional restraints when it comes to sex has generally benefited either individuals or society. The biblical standard of faithfulness in marriage is frequently mocked yet lives continue to be broken when this standard is ignored. I hope that we will one day realize that our freedom to do what is right in our own eyes will leave our children to inherit a world where sexual pleasure becomes god and righteousness is treated as yesterday's news. Perhaps that is already our reality, but I hope that the world my children become adults in is different than the one I did.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

From the Mouths of Babes

As the parent of several young children I have noticed the proliferation of awards, honors and recognition that kids get these days. When I was a kid it seemed like the only awards you got were at the end of the year for things like making the honor roll, perfect attendance or finishing anywhere in the top ten on field day. These days my children have received so many certificates, gift cards and stickers by the end of the year we don't know where to put them all ("Hey Jimmy, you showed up to school today and your fly's not open. Here's a free coupon from Pizza Hut!")

In that vein I saw this humorous story on Christianity Today:

"After school, my five-year-old son Johnathan burst into my office and exclaimed, "Mom, I got a reward today!" I dug through his bookbag crammed with a lunch box, library book, and artwork. Finally, I found the certificate signed by his teacher. "This is a math award," I said. "It says you did an excellent job in math today. That's great." With a puzzled look, Johnathan asked, "What's math?"
Too funny. You just never know what's going to come out of the mouths of your children. It reminds me of a few weeks ago when Lori and I were having a dinner discussion with our kids about the concept of cheating and deceiving others. We talked about how some kids will hide their report cards from their parents when they get bad grades in the hopes that their parents won't find out. Our high achieving daughter, Leah, (who has inherited her mother's talents) blurted out: "Even if I got a really bad grade...like a 93%...I would still tell you guys!"

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

You Are Now in Bedford Falls

As I've mentioned before, my favorite Christmas movie of all-time is It's a Wonderful Life, starring Jimmy Stewart and Donna Reed. It is perhaps the most inspirational movie ever made and I always enjoy watching it around this time of year. My parents even have a trivia game based on the movie that we used to play as a family. Several years ago my dad began purchasing little homes and buildings based on the movie that when put together, creates the town of Bedford Falls, the fictional town where the movie takes place.

My sister posted photos of the village this year and I'm putting up a few of them here for your enjoyment. It's quite a display. The last picture is of my niece, Jordan, showing off her Papa's handiwork.





Sunday, December 07, 2008

Living Above 'The Fray' of Christian Cliche'

One of the most promising bands to hit the music scene over the past few years is The Fray. Not only does this talented group produce great music, but they are also committed Christians. Along with a number of other bands like Switchfoot and P.O.D., The Fray seeks to have their music exposed to a much broader audience than those that would typically purchase music on "Christian" labels.

While reading up on the band I came across this interview that they did in Christianity Today a couple of years ago. While providing some background on the history of the group, lead singer Isaac Slade offers an interesting take on the band's purpose. Here's a segment of Stan Friedman's article:
"Critics have credited the band's success in part to their catchy hooks and melodies, but the power of Slade's lyrics also has been key to catapulting The Fray into the national limelight. How to Save a Life is filled with songs that tell stories of depth and emotion that go beyond the ever-present angst—and Christian—bands. The band members' lives were largely formed in Denver churches where they helped lead worship, and in the Christian school three of them attended. Slade, 24, and guitarist Joe King, 25, were several years ahead of drummer Ben Wysocki, 21, at Faith Christian Academy. Wysocki and guitarist David Welsh, 21, played in the same worship band.
The band avoided Christian record labels, saying God called them to the secular market instead. "I feel he would be disappointed with us if we limited ourselves," Wysocki says. Slade says he used to "write all Christian lyrics" until he had an epiphany while working a shift at Starbucks: "None of my friends outside the church understood any of my songs; we had a different set of vocabulary," he says. "So I went home and threw away all those songs." He adds, "If I handed somebody a double grande mocha latte and told them, 'Jesus loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life,' they might throw it back on me.
"If we grow up in the church, it's easy to think it's our Christian duty to preach to every single person because God is the most important thing. And he is, but I'm a musician first. This is my job. We're not pastors. We're not preachers. We're not even missionaries." Slade likens his job to any other. "If you're a painter, paint, but you don't have to have Jesus in every picture. Paint well, and if you paint well enough, they might ask you why you do that."
Within Christian circles there is often an expectation placed upon musicians to be more upfront and vocal about their faith than we expect from those in other professions. For example, we don't expect lawyers who are Christians to refer to Jesus in every opening argument, but we are often dismayed if a singer who is a Christian doesn't use the name of Jesus in every song. I am not at all saying that singers who are followers of Christians shouldn't refer to God in their songs. I would be disappointed if they didn't.

But what I am concerned is the desire of some of us to place Christians artists in a box and relegate them to the Christian subculture that we've created. There may be some that have a calling from God to minister to and encourage those that are already part of The Church and that is a great thing. However, there are others that have a calling to reach those outside of the Christian faith. In order to do this effectively they need to speak a language that the broader culture will understand and do so in a manner that points them to God.

As in any profession, musicians that are believers in Jesus need to work at their craft with excellence and seek to let their light shine wherever God leads them. Simple things like working hard, showing up on time, completing assignments and being a friend to co-workers are all things that honor God in the workplace. On the other hand, musicians have a platform that many of us don't possess. They have a voice that is heard by millions and opportunities to influence culture. Whether they are explicitly Christian in their lyrical content or they seek to raise questions that will cause people to seek spiritual answers, Christian artists should seek to live as God would want any of us to live. As Jesus said in Matthew 5:

"You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven."
No matter if I claim the title of pastor or missionary or singer or plumber, my role as a Christian is to follow God each day and live in a manner that pleases Him. We are to seek ways that honor him and opportunities to make Him known by always being prepared to share the reason for the hope that is within us with gentleness and respect. (I Peter 3:15)

Saturday, December 06, 2008

My Co-Workers

One of the privileges that I have in my work with The Impact Movement and Campus Crusade for Christ is the individuals that I get to work alongside of on a daily basis. The picture to the left is of our Impact Campus Ministry team, a group of individuals that coach, resource, provide direction and encourage student leaders with The Impact Movement across the country.

Our mission of Impact is to take the truth of Jesus Christ to the campus, community and world by producing leaders of African descent who are spiritually focused, financially responsible and morally fit. One of the ways that we do this is by hosting a national conference which helps to equip the next generation of leaders in the black community and beyond. If you'd like to learn more about Impact 2008 Mission:Possible or register for the conference, please visit the conference website at http://www.impact2008.com/.

Another group of people that I get to lead with is the national leadership team of Ethnic Student Ministries of Campus Crusade. This is a team made up of regional and national directors committed to reaching each American ethnic minority and international students with the gospel. I get the opportunity to meet with these friends a few times a year and it is always a good time to hear how God is working in the lives of students throughout the U.S. This photo was just taken this past week at our meetings in Breckenridge, Colorado.

To learn some more about each of the strategies of Ethnic Student Ministries, check out these links:

Destino (Hispanic & Latino students)
Epic (Asian American students)
Korea Campus Crusade (Korean American students)
The Impact Movement (African American students)
Nations (Native American students)
Bridges International (International Students)

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Native American Leaders Comment on Christianity and Culture

A couple of years ago I had the privilege of spending a few days with Richard Twiss, the director of Wiconi International, a ministry committed to reaching First Nations people with the gospel of Christ. I was impressed with Rev. Twiss's wisdom, understanding of culture and adeptness at making Jesus real within Native cultural contexts. Here is a video where Richard, along with other theologians Raymond Aldred and Terry LeBlanc, share their thoughts on Christianity, culture and what indigenous peoples can contribute to the Body of Christ worldwide. Thanks to the God's Politics blog for posting this video. Click here if the player doesn't show up.

Monday, December 01, 2008

World AIDS Day

Today is World AIDS Day, a day devoted to bringing attention to the worldwide epidemic of HIV/AIDS. For those of us in the United States we may be relatively unaffected by this disease although it is hard to find anyone that hasn't had a friend or relative stricken with HIV/AIDS. In other parts of the world, AIDS is a serious crisis where whole families and villages are being wiped out by this crisis.

Here is an article entitled "The 51%" that I wrote about AIDS in the black community for the website http://www.notyourmamasreligion.com/, an evangelistic website designed by The Impact Movement that speaks to African American young people.

The 51%

It was a moment that I will never forget. I was a freshman in college and was returning from an evening biology class on a cold November evening when I ran into a friend. He told me that Magic Johnson was just about to begin a press conference in which he would reveal that he had HIV and would be retiring from the NBA. I initially thought he was joking, but then he asked me why he would make something like that up. I then knew we wasn’t kidding. To say I was in shock would be an understatement.

Magic Johnson – a heterosexual, black man – revealing that he was HIV+ opened up a lot of our eyes. Up until that point, many Americans (me included) looked upon HIV/AIDS as more of a problem for gay white men. But if Magic could get it, what did that mean for the rest of us? Unfortunately, after the initial shock of Magic’s announcement wore off we all returned to our lives and our normal behaviors. People that were freaks before began gettin’ their freak on again and it was business as usual. That was 1991 and the spread of HIV/AIDS has continued. Though black folk comprise only 13% of the general population, African Americans make up 51% of newly reported HIV cases. Black men are seven times more likely to be HIV+ than their white counterparts and black women are 20 times as likely as white women. It’s time for a wake up call, y’all!

Why has something that started as a disease among gay white men now viciously spread through the black community? There are several reasons why this has happened. First, the high rate of poverty in many black neighborhoods has resulted in substandard health care opportunities. Second, the lack of quality training regarding sex education – in our homes, schools, and churches – has contributed to the spread of many myths concerning the spread of HIV/AIDS. Third, the use of IV drugs and the sharing of needles has moved the spread of HIV/AIDS beyond just the sexually active into the lives of drug users. Fourth, the high rate of promiscuity among our youth has caused this disease to spread rapidly as young people are having sex (many times unprotected) with multiple partners. Fifth, the unusually high rate of imprisonment for young black males has led many of these young men to engage in high risk sex while in prison and then take whatever they caught with them when they are released into society.

As sad as the realities of HIV/AIDS is in the United States, it is even worse in Africa. The poverty, lack of education and poor health care is not as good as it is in the U.S. and this has led to the HIV/AIDS crisis of epidemic proportions in the Motherland. In South Africa alone, at least 1 in 9 people are HIV+. I have spent some time there and I learned that one of the myths regarding HIV is that if a man is HIV+ and has sex with a virgin, then he will be cleansed of the disease. This has resulted in increased rapes, particularly among young girls since their likelihood of being a virgin is increased.

However, we can look to the country of Uganda as an example of how to stem the tide of the spread of HIV/AIDS. The approach taken in Uganda is referred to as the ABC approach. First, sexual Abstinence until marriage is encouraged as the most effective method to not obtaining the virus. Second, sexually active individuals are advised to Be faithful to a single partner or reduce their number of partners. Third, people are asked to always use a Condom, especially if they have more than one sexual partner. This approach has helped bring the rate of HIV+ adults down from 15% to 6% at present.

As good as the Ugandan government’s approach is, I think the stance that the Bible takes would serve us even better. When talking about the problem of HIV/AIDS, other sexually transmitted diseases (STD’s), unwanted pregnancies, etc. with others, I have often posed the following solution – what would happen if each of us followed the Bible’s guidelines for sex and how we treated our bodies? What are those guidelines, you ask? Here’s what I suggest:

1. Wait until marriage to have sex
2. Only have sex with your spouse
3. Treat your body as a temple

Now I know this is an ideal and may not seem realistic, but think about it. If we all followed these guidelines we would eventually eliminate HIV/AIDS and all other STD’s, all rape, all extramarital affairs, virtually eliminate any reasons for abortion, and we would all live much longer since we weren’t putting junk into our bodies. As much as some of us may feel that God has created certain rules to take away our fun, I think if we are honest we will find that this is not the case. Any “thou shalt not’s” that are in the Bible are not there arbitrarily. There is a reason for it. God wants to protect and provide for us. So when God tells us to remain sexually pure outside of marriage and remain faithful to our spouse once in marriage, he knows what he is talking about.

The harsh reality is that HIV/AIDS can not be considered a “gay disease.” Too many lives are being affected and we must take away the stigma that is attached to AIDS and the homophobia that comes with it. Too many brothas are living on the “down low” where they have a boyfriend on the side and then go home to their wife. We need to be able to have honest conversations about sex and HIV/AIDS. While most cases of HIV/AIDS come as a result of our own bad choices (blood transfusions and those unknowingly affected by their spouses notwithstanding), part of the blame lies with my brethren who are fellow ministers. By not talking about sex and its consequences with our congregations, we unwittingly contribute to widespread ignorance. Knowing that close to 70% of African American children are born out of wedlock should clue us in that many of our faithful church members are not following the Bible’s instructions when it comes to sex.

As good as it is to know different practical steps to avoid contracting HIV/AIDS, we must understand how God has designed us. As human beings we have a sexual nature with God-given needs and desires. This is not a bad thing or something that we should be scared to discuss in appropriate settings. The problem arises when we seek to meet these legitimate needs in illegitimate ways. All of us long to love and be loved and this can contribute to irresponsible and even sinful behavior with our bodies. We must realize that we cannot change our own hearts, but God can do this for us. He wants us to know the truth not about only HIV/AIDS, but most importantly about his son, Jesus. If you would like to find out more about the truth that Jesus offers please click here."

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Return of the Prodigal

The lesson in our adult Sunday school class this morning at our church was on a familiar story, the account of the Prodigal Son as told in Luke 15. You have probably heard of the parable of a son who asks for his inheritance, leaves home and squanders it away, returns home and is lovingly embraced by his father. Perhaps better than any other biblical story, the account of the prodigal son demonstrates the unconditional love of God.

Several years ago I was blessed by a multi-week sermon series by Pastor Joey Johnson on Luke 15 at the church I attended at the time, The House of the Lord in Akron, Ohio. Pastor Joey unpacked these verses in ways that I had never heard before and much of what I learned from that series has stuck with me to this day.

In our class this morning we compared the well-known Christian version of the story with a similar parable found in Buddhism. One of our pastors, Dave Abney, led us in a discussion comparing and contrasting the two stories. You can read both accounts and a comparison here. Since most of our class had never read the Buddhist story before it was interesting to become familar with it.

While there are many similarities between these two parables, there are a number of striking differences. The biggest difference is that in the Buddhist version the son has to prove his worth through turmoil and striving. Even after finally being accepted by his father and given his inheritance, the son had lost years of relational intimacy with his father.

On the other hand, the Christian version demonstrates the uniquely Christian concept of grace (or undeserved favor.) The son in the Luke 15 account had insulted his father and family, had wasted everything that was given to him and deserved to be punished. But, in grace, his father runs to meet him when he returns home and treats him as royalty. The son's older brother, who had dutifully served his father for years, was displeased with his father's display of grace toward his brother.

As our class talked about this story, many of us, unfortunately, identified with the older brother in the story. We'll gladly accept what our father wants to give us, but resent his generosity to others that don't deserve it as much as we do (or so we think.) We don't celebrate the lost prodigals that have come home because we're more concerned with getting what we want. Thankfully, our heavenly Father demonstrates the same kind of grace to older brothers as he does to the prodigals.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Not Fast Forwarding Through Life

After enjoying a wonderful Thanksgiving feast prepared by my wife, Lori, taking in a fair amount of football and spending a fun day with my kids and friend, Greg, I closed out the evening by watching the Adam Sandler movie Click.

In the movie Sandler plays a man, Michael Newman, who works too much and doesn't seem to find the time to spend quality time with his family. One evening he ventures out into the night to find a universal remote that will control all of his electronic gadgets, but instead he is given a remote that will control his universe.

With a click of a button Michael can skip through arguments with his wife, mute his barking dog and avoid life's trivialities like traffic and showering. He initially enjoys the power that having the remote holds, but he begins to have regrets as he realizes that he is missing large portions of his life. He misses milestones in the life of his children and takes for granted his rapidly aging parents.

You wouldn't expect an Adam Sandler movie to do more than make you life, but surprisingly Click is cut from the same mold as A Christmas Carol or It's a Wonderful Life. It is a gift to be able to take stock of our life before it is too late. Although many of us devote the bulk of our time to our work, we don't have to allow it to control our lives to the detriment of our family. The scene here is when he is older and is trying to make up for lost time with his son, Ben. In their interaction Michael learns that his own father has passed away and he's missed it. He rewinds to the last time he saw his dad. (Click here if the player doesn't show up.)



I've been on vacation this week and have been able to enjoy a lot of quality time with Lori and the kids. We've laughed a lot, played games together and enjoyed our unrushed meal times. I was reminded yesterday how thankful I am for my wife and children, for my parents, for my sister and her family, for my in-laws and for all my friends. Even though my children are still fairly young, I realize that they will be grown before I know it. I need (and want) to enjoy the little things in life since once those moments are in the past I can never "rewind" to them again. Don't forget to tell the most important people in your life that you love them. You'll never regret it.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

A Detroit Lion Who Produces

I often hear comments about the number of kids that I have, four, and how hard it must be to remember all their names and that sort of thing. Even though our family of six is above the national average, it is nothing near the size of former Detroit Lion Luther Ellis's brood. He and his wife, Rebecca, have 11 kids!

That's right, they've got enough to field their own football team. As you can see in this photo taken by Willie Archer of the Detroit Free Press, they even seem to like each other :) Free Press columnist Jo-Ann Barnas recently wrote a column on the Ellis family and how they manage their lives with such a large family.

With the negative attention given to NFL players and their run-ins with the law and such, it's nice to see a positive story on one who is a committed husband and father. In addition, it's refreshing to hear something... anything... good connected to the Lions. And just when did the Ellis's decide to have so many kids? Barnas writes:
"Thirteen years ago, Elliss said he and his wife knew they wanted a "good-size family -- at least four or five kids." What was it that more than doubled their thinking? "Life," Elliss said. The couple had never planned to adopt children. But eight years ago, Luther and Rebecca were in Salt Lake City visiting friends when they learned that a healthy baby didn't have an adoptive family because he was biracial. The boy was a week old. They were moved to take action.
"She stayed up for 24 hours doing all the paper work, writing our biographies, making all the calls," Luther said. "In less than a week, we had him in our possession." Rebecca said: "It's so hard to describe the feeling -- it's amazing. Having never adopted before, I wasn't sure how it would be. But it was almost like, the second he was placed in our arms, our hearts just grew. We couldn't stop crying." They named the boy Isaiah. "To see his smile and the kind of character that he has right now, his name fits him," Luther said. "He's a blessing."
From that day forward, Luther and his wife became advocates for adoption. They currently sit on the board of an infant adoption agency in Salt Lake City called "A Act of Love." Rebecca and a friend also recently started a company -- My Abba's Heart -- making and selling jewelry to benefit foster- and global-orphan care. Four of the Ellis's family's last six kids are adopted."
I'm glad to see the model that Luther Ellis and his wife have been in the Detroit community and beyond when it comes to the importance of faith and family. I'd love to see their story featured for a national television audience this Thursday as millions tune in to watch the Lions & Titans on Thansgiving. We shall see.

Christian Athletes and Philippians 4:13

If you were to read the media guides for any number of professional and collegiate teams or even look to the apparel that athletes wear on game day, there is a certain verse that gets frequent attention -- Philippians 4:13. A simple verse, it says, "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me." But when used by athletes is the verse being taken out of context and used inappropriately? A look at the context of the passage should tell us something.

The book of Philippians was written by the Apostle Paul to the church of Philippi while he was in jail. This letter outlines his hope in Christ and the fact that true joy can be found in the midst of even difficult circumstances. An examination of the broader passage surrounding chapter 4, verse 13 indicates what Paul was referring to:
"Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you. I rejoice greatly in the Lord that at last you have renewed your concern for me.
Indeed, you have been concerned, but you had no opportunity to show it. I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through him who gives me strength. Yet it was good of you to share in my troubles. Moreover, as you Philippians know, in the early days of your acquaintance with the gospel, when I set out from Macedonia, not one church shared with me in the matter of giving and receiving, except you only; for even when I was in Thessalonica, you sent me aid again and again when I was in need.
Not that I am looking for a gift, but I am looking for what may be credited to your account. I have received full payment and even more; I am amply supplied, now that I have received from Epaphroditus the gifts you sent. They are a fragrant offering, an acceptable sacrifice, pleasing to God. And my God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus. To our God and Father be glory for ever and ever. Amen."
Though many athletes may look to this verse for personal inspiration in regard to their athletic achievements, it means so much more. Paul had known the realities of times of comfort and times of inconvenience. Through all these things he had found contentment in whatever circumstances he was facing. While it is okay for Christian athletes to seek to apply this verse to their lives, it is troubling to see how it often gets limited to mean the ability to hit home runs or score touchdowns. The "all things" that Paul was referring to was not pertaining to competitive sports. He was referring to the joy that believers in Christ could find in the midst of hard times and, furthermore, the blessings of giving and receiving within the family of God.

When rightly applied it would mean athletes can thank God in their on-camera interview following a loss, just as they do after a win. It would mean that they could also kneel in prayer after dropping a touchdown pass and not just when they caught it. And I hope more athletes follow the example of Tim Tebow (pictured above) and others by using the platform that sports has given them to positively influence the lives of other. Christ does not give us strength merely for us to get rich and famous. He does it for His sake. Beyond the field of athletics, this verse can provide great comfort for all believers. No matter whether our circumstances are easy or difficult, we can do all things through Him who gives us strength.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Advocating a Holistic Gospel

Leadership magazine conducted a survey this summer and asked several hundred evangelical Christian pastors about their view of the gospel, mission and how verbal proclamation of the good news and the expression of good deeds work together. Among the findings was that there has definitely been a shift in thinking to this regard, even from just a decade ago. The survey uncovered the following from those interviewed:

- Pastors are focusing more on the Gospels than on the Epistles.
- More pastors believe the gospel is advanced by demonstration and not simply proclamation.
- More pastors say the goal of evangelism is to grow "the" church rather than to grow "my" church.
- More pastors believe partnering with other local churches is essential to accomplishing their mission.

It hasn't just been Leadership magazine that has acknowledged this trend. Even the Wall Street Journal picked up on this development. Writer Dale Buss noted the following:
"This shift constitutes a mega development in the world of megachurches. For over 30 years, Willow Creek [the megachuch located outside of Chicago] grew explosively thanks to its obliqueness toward Sabbath-day orthodoxy and quickly became the standard-bearer of a powerful new movement in evangelical Christianity. Thousands of churches sprang up in its wake and grew the same way. But recent market research showed Willow Creek's leadership that some great weaknesses lay beneath the surface even while average weekend attendance had grown to 23,000 people. Too many of their flock, Mr. Hybels and his staff discovered, considered themselves spiritually 'stalled' or 'dissatisfied' with the role of the church in their spiritual growth, and huge portions of these groups were considering leaving Willow Creek because of it" (Wall Street Journal, July 27, 2008).
With more evangelicals advocating issues of social justice, creation care and aid to the poor, there is a concern among many of us committed to the cause of evangelism that a drift away from the need to verbally share the gospel is taking place. Although we do need to continue to ensure that we as followers of Christ stay committed to simple presentations of the gospel through our words, the Bible does not make the separation between verbal proclamation and lifestyle witness that we often do. In fact, Jesus consistently affirmed that our actions do matter greatly. Look at what He said in Matthew 25:

"When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his throne in heavenly glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left. "Then the King will say to those on his right, 'Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.'

"Then the righteous will answer him, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?' "The King will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.' "Then he will say to those on his left, 'Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.'

"They also will answer, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?' "He will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.' "Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life."

In addition, James affirms this sentiment when he said:

"What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him? Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, "Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed," but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead."
For those that advocate only good works, we need to remember that good deeds are not enough. A social gospel that never explains Jesus as the motivation is really no gospel at all. There are many that feed the poor and care for the sick that are not Christians. Our deeds matter, but the importance of our words cannot be minimized either. When Jesus gave his instructions in Mark 16 to "go into all the world and proclaim the gospel" or told his disciples in Acts 1 that they would be His "witnesses", he was speaking of declaring verbally the good news. The call of Jesus is to show His love by both caring for the needs of other and by sharing with others how they can have a relationship with Him.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Brighten the Holidays for Wounded Soldiders

From the website of the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW)...
"Thousands of wounded troops will spend the holidays recovering from devastating injuries... far from family and home. Don't let Christmas feel like just another day for our brave heroes who have already sacrificed so much.
Help make their Christmas brighter and join us in sending cheerful wishes to our heroes. VFW will be delivering a giant Christmas card to wounded troops recovering at the Madigan Army Medical Center in Fort Lewis, Wash., and we want your signature to be included. Add your name to the giant Christmas card and let these brave men and women know that we are deeply grateful for their sacrifices.
We need all signatures by December 5th in order to deliver the card before Christmas. So, please sign the card today. Thank you for supporting our troops and veterans.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

The Top 150 Books of the Past 15 Years

USA Today has been publishing its best-selling books list since 1993 and, in order to celebrate this, the paper recently posted the top-selling titles of the past fifteen years. You can view the complete list here, but there are some interesting things to note from the list...

- Books from J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter series occupies seven of the top nine spots. This is amazing when you think of the thousands of books that get published each year.

- Author John Grisham has fourteen titles on the list.

- There are at least seven books that are written from a Christian vantage point:

1. The Purpose Driven Life by Rick Warren
2. Your Best Life Now by Joel Osteen
3. The Prayer of Jabez by Bruce Wilkinson
4. The Shack by William Young
5. Left Behind by Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins
6. 90 Minutes in Heaven by Don Piper
7. The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis
- There are a number of classic works (e.g. To Kill a Mockingbird, The Cather in the Rye, 1984) that still have substantial sales.

- Hollywood likes to make movies from best-selling books.

- Several books are on this list (e.g. The Da Vinci Code, The Secret, Embraced by the Light) that deal with spiritual issues and are at odds with a Christian worldview.

I would estimate that I've read approximately 20-25% of the books on this list and looking through it reminds of some that I've been meaning to read that I haven't gotten to yet. I don't know what to conclude from looking at which books are popular, but I do know that J.K. Rowling has to be a very, very wealthy woman.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Every Man's Dream

If most men are honest with themselves they secretly would covet the opportunity to get to test their athletic ability against their favorite sports stars. Whether it be playing a round of golf with Tiger Woods, trying to stop a Wayne Gretzky slapshot or tackle Barry Sanders, those with the means will shell out thousands of dollars in order to get such an opportunity.

A video has recently surfaced of man who got such a chance while attending Michael Jordan's "Flight School" camp a few years ago. The man's name is John Rogers and the video doesn't lie as his fellow campers, along with Damon Wayans, watch on in amazement and he does the unthinkable and beats His Airness in a game of one-on-one. You can watch the video here if the player doesn't show up. (Thanks to my buddy, Muhammad, for sending this along.)

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Standing Up For Marriage

In many circles a major story has been lost in all of the news coverage of the election Barack Obama. In several states (including the one in which I reside, Florida) measures were passed that would legally define marriage as the union between a man and a woman. Surprising to many, this type of measure passed in the state of California. Generally regarded as a left-leaning and progressive state, a number in the gay community did not respond positively to this development.

In fact, protesters have even picketed Mormon temples and Christian churches for their perceived role in the passage of Proposition 8. Conservatives view legally accepted marriages between homosexuals as an assault on a sacred institution, whereas liberals view it as a natural progression in the granting of equal rights to a group of people that have been historically oppressed.

In a pluralistic democratic society, how should we respond when there are proposed changes in the law when it comes to those institutions that we consider sacred, such as marriage? One of the major challenges in the discussion of a sensitive topic such as this is to realize that there are actually at least two different senses in which we view marriage. First, it is a union in the eyes of God "til death do us part." Second, it is a legal contract in the government's eyes that can be broken when seen fit by one or both parties. This is wherein the rub lies. In one sense it is holy, sacred and eternal; in the other it is secular, temporal and limited to this age. Maybe the perspective that C.S. Lewis shared on marriage in his classic Mere Christianity needs to be considered:
"Before leaving the question of divorce, I should like to distinguish two things which are very often confused. The Christian conception of marriage is one: the other is the quite different question — how far Christians, if they are voters or Members of Parliament, ought to try to force their views of marriage on the rest of the community by embodying them in the divorce laws. A great many people seem to think that if you are a Christian yourself you should try to make divorce difficult for every one.

I do not think that. At least I know I should be very angry if the [Muslims] tried to prevent the rest of us from drinking wine. My own view is that the Churches should frankly recognise that the majority of the British people are not Christians and, therefore, cannot be expected to live Christian lives. There ought to be two distinct kinds of marriage: one governed by the State with rules enforced on all citizens, the other governed by the Church with rules enforced by her on her own members. The distinction ought to be quite sharp, so that a man knows which couples are married in a Christian sense and which are not."
Perhaps those that are advocates for gay marriage are so infuriated at those that are against it is because many that claim marriage is sacred and holy treat it as if it is secular and temporal. According to a number of studies, those that identify themselves as born-again Christians divorce at essentially the same rate as the general population. How can we say that marriage is a holy institution that would be threatened by the legalization of gay marriage when an arguably greater threat is the frequency that Christians cheat on their spouses and the alarming rate at which Christians divorce?

In mentioning these realities, I am not attempting to bring greater pain to those that have already suffered the devastating heartbreak of a broken marriage. What I am seeking to do is to cause those of us that call ourselves followers of Jesus to first take a good look at ourselves. There are some in the public eye that are the most vocal critics of gay marriage that have had three or four marriages themselves. And they call it sacred?! When it comes to the marriage debate, the words of Jesus from the Sermon on the Mount resound:
"Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you." "Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother's eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, 'Let me take the speck out of your eye,' when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother's eye."
For those of us that have not gone through a divorce or physically committed adultery, we don't escape Jesus' warnings either:
"You have heard that it was said, 'Do not commit adultery.' But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart."
Jesus' teachings went beyond what we find comfortable. He spoke against divorce. He spoke against adultery. And, yes, he even spoke against lust. I do think that marriage should not be entered into lightly and I do believe that it should be reserved for a man and woman for life. But I also think it would do us well to consider that our words ring hollow to the mainstream when we claim to be advocates for that which is God-ordained yet continue to not demonstrate that in our own lives.

None of us are perfect and we will all fail from time-to-time so let us remember that our love will always go farther than our anger and that grace has more power to pierce the human heart than judgment.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Lessons From the Election

Some interesting thoughts on the election from Tim Elmore, president of Growing Leaders:
"Well, we made American history. Barack Obama was just elected as the first African-American president of the United States. It was a clear victory for Senator Obama, if not a landslide in the electoral college. I felt like both Barak Obama and John McCain showed class in their speeches following the election results. Now that it's all over, and the dust has settled, I have reflected on lessons we can learn from this historic campaign. What did the whole thing teach us about leadership and about people? Let me suggest these insights for you to discuss with your team.
1. Leaders must inspire people before they challenge people. This was a big difference between Obama and McCain. John McCain certainly challenged Americans to be a part of a cause that was bigger than themselves. Great sound bite. Healthy habit to practice. Unfortunately, he was unable to inspire the population first. Unlike Senator Obama, he came across a little angry and intense. Obama was able to inspire people with a picture of a preferred tomorrow- like both Clinton and Reagan before him. When leaders do this, people feel they're able to accept the challenge of the present realities they must face.
2. Leaders must build a brand that creates a tribe. As I listened to speeches over the last eight months, it seemed like Senator McCain spent a lot of time trying to distance himself from President Bush. He recognized where the tide of popularity was and wasn't going. However, he didn't create the feel of a "tribe" - - a following of people who have bought into an ideal. This is what Obama did very well. Time will tell whether it is real or not, but Barak Obama developed a brand ("Change You Can Believe In") and a tribe of all colors, ages and socio-economic backgrounds. There was a definite identity as Obama supporters. People want to belong to a tribe-so leaders must create one.
3. Leaders must communicate in an authentic and a fresh fashion. Regardless of who you voted for, you must admit, Barak Obama did what John McCain was unable to do. He communicated in a genuine way with people. He wasn't slick, but he was smooth. Senator McCain, while I liked much of his content, seemed stiff. This is not a substance issue but a style issue. People need to "feel" something as they follow their leader. They want to believe in him or her. They love it when their leader is authentic not plastic. (Authentic means "to author"; or to originate one's own identity.) In addition, people love to follow a leader who uses fresh technology. It gives them the sense the leader is on the cutting edge. Obama did this, McCain did not.
4. Leaders must play offense not defense the majority of the time. This one is subtle but very real. Although John McCain had some noble ideas, it appeared to me as if he was constantly playing defense. As Obama attacked his associations with the Bush administration, McCain was always defending himself. I'm not suggesting he said anything wrong, but that he projected the feel of: "I'm playing defense." He beckoned people to defend him. This is not magnetic to followers. To me, it seemed Barak Obama was able to play off of the "Bush Haters" in America. Frankly, it's easy to convince people not to like something. What he was able to do, however, was to play offense. People follow a leader who plays offense more quickly than one who plays defense. This is why Martin Luther King Jr. had a larger following than Jesse Jackson.
5. Leaders must connect with ordinary people. This one is a lesson from both candidates. People want to see the humanity of their leader. They want to experience a connection with him or her. They want to feel he understands us. They want to believe the leader can identify with them-like the neighbor next door. John McCain did this by talking about his P.O.W. experience in Vietnam. He was a hero, but he was a human who struggled and suffered in his past. Barak Obama did this by talking about his boyhood years, being raised by a single mom and his grandparents - - not a wealthy, nuclear family. And he's from a minority race. People are impressed with a leader's achievements, but they identify with a leader's struggles.
6. Leaders must foster a hope that people can make a difference. The bottom line question in any election is: who inspires more confidence? Napoleon Bonaparte said it two hundred years ago: "Leaders are dealers in hope." The leader who projects greater hope for the people, gets followed. While both senators tried to communicate hope, the season America is in today dictated which one had greater success. McCain spoke of established traditions. Obama spoke of emerging trends. Today, because of the present unrest and uncertainty in our country, people voted for the younger, suave, savvy leader. People felt that Barak Obama had a better handle on where the future was going than John McCain did. If a leader can instill confidence, and if the leader can motivate ordinary people to join them because they will make a difference in history. . . you've got yourself a winning combination.
Obviously Barack Obama was able to create a new culture within his party. I believe this is the challenge of both major political parties, and for that matter, nearly every organization that plans to succeed. As I mentioned before, only time will tell whether President - Elect Obama will rise to the occasion. He does lack experience and the problems we face are bigger than any individual could ever tackle without lots of help from all parties. This article is not an endorsement for either candidate. It is not meant to make a political statement. I simply wanted to toss out some ideas on what happened during the presidential campaign that informs us as we attempt to lead the next generation. I bet you have some of your own. Use this as a platform for discussion to polish your own leadership."
Thanks to my wife, Lori, for sending this article along.

Monday, November 10, 2008

How People of Faith Voted in the Election

George Barna, the well-known Christian pollster, recently did a study on how the various religious subsets of Americans voted in the presidential election last week. You can read the full report here, but here are some highlights:
Evangelicals
Evangelicals are a small proportion of the national population - just 7% of all adults. But they tend to capture the imagination and attention of the national media and political pundits. The survey data consistently show that evangelical Christians have among the highest rates of voting turnout among all voter groups and are, in fact, strikingly different from the rest of the population - even from other born again Christians who are not evangelical.
As was true in the past two presidential elections, two-thirds of all evangelicals who were registered to vote (65%) were aligned with the Republican Party. One out of five (21%) was Democrats and just one out of ten (10%) was registered independent of a party. That puts evangelicals at odds with the national voter profile, which shows a plurality of Democrats (42%), one-third Republican (34%) and two out of ten (20%) independent of a party affiliation.
Most remarkably, however, was the overwhelming support registered among evangelicals for Republican candidate John McCain. In total, 88% voted for Sen. McCain, compared to just 11% for Sen. Obama. The 88% is statistically identical to the 85% of evangelicals who backed George W. Bush in 2004. Surveys conducted by Barna throughout the campaign season showed that evangelicals were not enthusiastic about either candidate, but on Election Day evangelicals came through in a big way for the most conservative major candidate on the ballot.

Born Again Christians

Evangelicals represent just one out of every six born again adults. The survey data among all born again adults found that they were much more likely to vote for Sen. McCain (57% did so) than for Sen. Obama (42%). As substantial as that margin is, the 15-point gap was considerably less than the 24-point margin accorded to George W. Bush in his 2004 campaign against Sen. John Kerry.
However, it is identical to the 15-point spread they gave to Mr. Bush in 2000, and more than double the 6-point margin they gave Sen. Bob Dole in his 1996 loss to Democratic incumbent Bill Clinton. However, born again Christians in general chose their candidate based on different criteria than did evangelicals. The major motivations among born again Christians who are not evangelical were political experience (20%), ideas about the country’s future (18%), character (17%), and economic policies (17%). To highlight the contrast in priorities, note that just 7% of evangelicals identified economic policy as a motivator, and only 8% of the non-evangelical born again Christians listed the candidate’s positions on moral issues.

Racial Identity
Among non-white voters, racial identity played a larger role in influencing their vote than did their religious beliefs and affiliations. Assessing the voting outcomes by race and faith, the survey showed that there were no statistically significant differences between black born again voters and black non-born again voters. Similarly, there were no meaningful distinctions in candidate preference between Hispanic born agains and Hispanic non-born again voters. Overall, Sen. Obama claimed more than 90% of the African-American vote and three-quarters of the Hispanic vote. He won just 41% of the white vote.
Among white voters, faith had a significant correlation with their candidate selection. White born again voters chose Sen. McCain by a 73% to 26% outcome. Whites who were not born again chose Sen. Obama by a 56% to 39% margin. White voters were also more affected by their understanding the candidates’ moral positions and political experience than were other voters.
Very interesting findings, indeed.

Friday, November 07, 2008

Tom Skinner's Prophetic Message

The significance of Barack Obama's election as president is just now beginning to sink in for me. After watching a portion of his press conference this afternoon, it began to hit me that he really is going to be our president. Rightly so, much of the discussion around his election has included the historical backdrop that his victory rests upon.

I'm currently reading a book called Black and Free by a man named Tom Skinner. Most of you that are my age or younger may have never heard of him, but those older than myself (especially many African Americans) definitely know who he is. Rev. Skinner grew up in Harlem and left a life of gang-banging behind when he committed his life to Christ as a teenager. He won great respect as an evangelist and had an audience with many prominent individuals. Sadly, he died too soon at the age of 52 in 1994.

In addition to the many African American audiences that he preached to, Skinner also gained a voice in white evangelical circles. In fact, one of his messages, which took place at InterVarsity's Urbana conference in 1970, is legendary. In his message entiteld "The U.S. Racial Crisis and World Evangelism," Skinner traced America's vicious racist legacy and the resulting effects that it has today. Though his message is close to forty years old, its relevance is just as applicable as when he first preached it. You can read the full transcript of his sermon and even listen to the audio here. It's about an hour long, but I encourage you to take the time to listen to it.

Skinner did what few have done when it comes to the issue of racism in the United States. He called it what it was -- sin -- and forced comfortable and complacent individuals to deal with our history. Sadly, the white evangelical American church has been noticably silent when it comes to these matters. We think that what happened years ago should stay there and refuse to accept that our racist history affects us even today.

As a young college student studying the social sciences, I read a lot and had many conversations about American history, political science, religion, sociology and philosophy. I learned from many scholars and learned people about our country's history, but it was from mostly non-Christian sources. For better or for worse, Malcolm X, Public Enemy, James Cone, Spike Lee, Farai Chideya, John Hope Franklin and numerous others shaped my thinking when it comes to matters of race.

After coming to faith in Christ, those beliefs began to get filtered through a biblical grid. This meant that some of my perspectives changed since I learned they were ungodly, but interestingly enough I found that many of them remain today. As Skinner said,
"Understand that for those of us who live in the black community, it was not the evangelical who came and taught us our worth and dignity as black men. It was not the Bible-believing fundamentalist who stood up and told us that black was beautiful. It was not the evangelical who preached to us that we should stand on our two feet and be men, be proud that black was beautiful and that God could work his life out through our redeemed blackness. Rather, it took Malcolm X, Stokely Carmichael, Rap Brown and the Brothers to declare to us our dignity. God will not be without a witness.
But the problem that we have is that we tend to think that truth can come only from those people we recognize to be anointed by God. That is the reason that when Martin Luther King came along and began to buck the system and do some things to help liberate black people, immediately we evangelicals wanted to know, "Is he born again? Does he preach the gospel?" Because you see, we think that if we could just prove that Martin Luther King was not a Christian, if we could prove that he was not born again, if we could prove that he did not believe the Word of God, then we think we can dismiss what he said. We think we can dismiss the truth. My friends, you must accept the fact that all truth is God's truth, no matter who it comes from."
I understand full well that my perspective on race does not fit nicely into white evangelical circles. It makes other feel uncomfortable and forces them to deal with things they'd rather ignore. Heck, it forces me to deal with the dark places of my heart that I'd rather not address either. But I believe that God has allowed me to experience the things I have, to meet the people I've met, to read the books I've read and learn what I've learned in order to pass that onto others. Our country is facing a pivotal time in our history and I trust that God will move in all of us to a degree that we respond in a manner which pleases Him. Hopefully, I can do my part to help that become a reality.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Help Billy Graham Celebrate His 90th Birthday

I just received this message from Franklin Graham, son of Billy Graham, concerning his father's upcoming birthday:
"My father will celebrate his 90th birthday November 7, and we’d like to give him a special gift. If you or someone in your family came to know Jesus Christ through his ministry, please share that with him. Send us your story—or a simple greeting and we’ll put all the messages together and present them to my father. We hope it will encourage my father as he sees the fruit of more than 60 years of ministry.
Millions more across the globe are hearing the life-changing Gospel message even now through the ongoing work of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association.
Thank you for helping us celebrate. May God richly bless you!"
Sincerely, Franklin Graham
For more information, please visit http://www.billygraham90.com/.

Elizabeth Hasselbeck Comments on Obama's Election

I can't claim to be one that watches "The View" very often... okay, I never watch it since I'm rarely at home when it's on and it has a little bit too much estrogen for my liking. But I do know that Elizabeth Hasselbeck is often by herself when it comes to the viewpoints she seeks to express on the show. She is a conversative Christian and seeks to hold her own when they discuss morality, faith and politics.

I do periodically watch clips from the show when something controversial has taken place and those clips seem to include Hasselbeck more times than not. She proudly campaigned for John McCain and defended Sarah Palin when she felt her co-hosts were attacked her. I don't always agree with her perspective, but she's got guts for hanging in there day after day.

But I'd like you to watch the clip below. I think she represents a mature and Christ-like response to how an individual that didn't vote for Barack Obama can carry themselves in the days ahead. (Click here if the player doesn't show up.)

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

An Historic Evening

I woke up this morning still in disbelief as I witnessed something last night that I never thought I would see in my lifetime -- the American electorate choosing an African American as president. The selection of Barack Obama as the next leader of this great land demonstrates that our country has taken a step forward when it comes to how people view race, but we still have a long ways to go.

I also sat there last evening in admiration as I watched John McCain give his concession speech. I appreciated the positive nature in which Sen. McCain carried himself throughout the campaign and the genuine and thoughtful way in which he recognized the historic moment that we were experiencing. More than simply making a brief reference to President-elect Obama's victory, he traced some of the American history in regard to race and the presidency. In case you didn't see his message, here is a portion:

"This is an historic election, and I recognize the special significance it has for African-Americans and for the special pride that must be theirs tonight. I've always believed that America offers opportunities to all who have the industry and will to seize it. Sen. Obama believes that, too. But we both recognize that, though we have come a long way from the old injustices that once stained our nation's reputation and denied some Americans the full blessings of American citizenship, the memory of them still had the power to wound.
A century ago, President Theodore Roosevelt's invitation of Booker T. Washington to dine at the White House was taken as an outrage in many quarters. America today is a world away from the cruel and frightful bigotry of that time. There is no better evidence of this than the election of an African-American to the presidency of the United States. Let there be no reason now for any American to fail to cherish their citizenship in this, the greatest nation on Earth."
Sen. McCain is not only an American hero and patriot, but a class act as well.

So as we prepare for a shift in leadership in the weeks ahead, there is one area that I would like to address with my friends that have vocally supported Sen. Obama. There is much that I like about him, but there is one subject that I strongly disagree with him on and that is on the issue of abortion. Much has been said about his voting record when it comes to this matter and it is a concern to me.

In their zeal to support the nation's first black president, I have been troubled by the cavalier attitude that some have displayed as it pertains to the protection of the unborn. As I read the Scriptures, I learn that God is concerned with both protecting the not yet born and caring for those children after they've left the womb. Abortion is not a political issue that should only be given attention every four years. It is a moral issue that demands our attention each day.

Voting for pro-life candidates is one way to care for the unborn, but there is much more than that in order to make a real difference. Randy Alcorn lists "50 Ways to Help Unborn Babies and Their Mothers" and I encourage you to read through that list and consider how you can be involved. Whether you consider yourself to be pro-life or pro-choice, I think we can all be involved in different ways to help women who find themselves with an unwanted pregnancy.

As I've said in other circles, I feel like this is my generation's slavery. I trust that God will change the heart of President-elect Obama so that he will do everything in his power to protect the innocent and defenseless -- both in and out of the womb. And may we each do the same as well.