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.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Driscoll on the Election

Here are some good thoughts from Mark Driscoll on the election. A few highlights:
"The bottom line is obvious to those with gospel eyes. People are longing for Jesus, and tragically left voting for mere presidential candidates. For those whose candidate wins today there will be some months of groundless euphoric faith in that candidate and the atoning salvation that their kingdom will bring. But, in time, their supporters will see that no matter who wins the presidency, they are mere mortals prone to sin, folly, and self-interest just like all the other sons of Adam and daughters of Eve.
To help extend na├»ve false hope as long as possible, a great enemy will be named and demonized as the one who is hindering all of the progress to atone for our sins and usher in our kingdom. If the Democrats win it will be the rich, and if the Republicans win it will be the terrorists. This diversionary trick is as old as Eve who blamed her sin on Satan rather than repenting. The lie is that it’s always someone else’s fault and we’re always the victim of sinners and never the sinner.
Speaking of repentance, sadly, no matter who wins there will be no call to personal repentance of our own personal sins which contributes to cultural suffering and decline such as our pride, gluttony, covetousness, greed, indebtedness, self-righteousness, perversion, and laziness. And, in four years we’ll do it all again and pretend that this time things will be different. Four years after that, we’ll do it yet again. And, we’ll continue driving around this cul de sac until Jesus returns, sets up his throne, and puts an end to folly once and for all."

Monday, November 03, 2008

Election Day is Upon Us

The day that so many have been anxiously anticipating for months is nearly upon us. The voters of the United States will soon elect the 44th president of this great country. Whether this is the "most important election of our lifetime" is left up to others decide. It seems like each presidential election in my adult life has carried that tag with it, but this one certainly is significant.

The country is the midst of troublesome times as we endure a spiraling out-of-control economy, look for some hope in a seemingly endless war in Iraq and desire to see morality restored in the corners of society where life and righteousness are devalued and treated as worthless.

It is no secret that I have been vexed by how some professing Christians have carried themselves during this election cycle. We have slandered individuals, spread lies and forwarded an endless amount of e-mails based in gossip and hearsay. We have encouraged hate speech and sought to justify it by claiming to be bearers of truth.

On the other hand, many of us have sought to raise legitimate questions regarding issues pertinent to this election. It is possible to disagree without being disagreeable and even to offend without being offensive. We are not failures when an unbelieving world is taken aback by our message, but when they are disgusted with our behavior.

Whoever wins in the election tomorrow, I hope that Christians everywhere will be committed to praying for our leaders as instructed in I Timothy 2:1-4. And in our prayers I think it is fitting and appropriate to ask God to change the hearts of our leaders when it comes to the matters with which we feel like they miss the heart of God. May each of us follow the clear instructions of the Apostle Paul in Romans 12:-9-21:
" Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honor one another above yourselves. Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Share with God's people who are in need. Practice hospitality.

Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited. Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God's wrath, for it is written: "It is mine to avenge; I will repay," says the Lord. On the contrary:
"If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head." Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good."
May God bless all Americans tomorrow and may the followers of Jesus represent Jehovah well.

Saturday, November 01, 2008

Michigan's Disappointing Season

The University of Michigan's disappointing football season hit a new low today with a loss to a subpar Purdue squad. The loss is the Wolverines fifth straight defeat and ensures its first losing season in over forty years and ends the country's longest consecutive bowl streak dating back to the mid-seventies.

Coming into this season I expected there to be some bumps in the roads as the team had to replace several star players on offense and everyone had to adjust to new Coach Rich Rodriguez. However, I was hoping for at least a .500 season and it appears that there is a very real possibility that the maize and blue will finish the year with only three or four wins (if that), including loses to rivals Notre Dame, Michigan State and Ohio State.

As a lifelong Michigan fan, I'll admit that I've been spoiled. The team has never really had a horrible year in my lifetime and consistently competes for the Big Ten title. To say this year has been an adjustment would be an understatement. I came across this post by Chris Burke on The Diag with some helpful insights for those of us that bleed maize and blue. This is some of what Burke had to say:
"You know, it's pretty obvious to me that us Michigan fans have been spoiled. So many non-losing seasons in a row, so many consecutive bowl appearances. Constantly in the top 25 and in the Big Ten title hunt until the regular season's last days. We scoffed and moaned at the 7-5, 8-4 and 9-3 years. If only we had known then what we know now ...
Michigan football is not infallible. All around us, the great programs in the country suffered through downward spirals - USC, Ohio State, Nebraska, Penn State. And yet, Michigan avoided too terrible of a collapse. Sure, there would be a less-than-stellar season every now and then but, for the most part, the Wolverines were among the best 10 or 20 programs in the nation year in and year out.
Things changed.
The program got a little stale, a little lackadaisical. So a change was made - a huge change. And even though we knew 2008 would be difficult, I think we all still hoped and expected that the step down would be to 6-6 or 7-5 - bad by Michigan's standards, but still above water.
So consider this our wake-up call. It is not easy to be great in college football these days. There are more competitive teams, stricter recruiting rules and more player resources. You cannot just flip a switch, completely revamp a program and expect everything to be copacetic immediately.
Even though this has been a tough year, there have been a lot of freshmen that are gaining valuable playing experience and with a good recruiting class for 2009, the future looks bright. In addition, Rich Rodriguez's teams have typically had a big adjustment in year one and seen major improvement in year two.

On a positive note, my alma mater, Central Michigan, is having another great year and is poised to win its third consecutive Mid American Conference championship. So at least I've got the Chippewas to get excited about on Saturdays this fall. Hopefully next fall we'll see winning seasons for both U of M and CMU.

Halloween Fun

Here I am with Peter from the Chronicles of Narnia, a Clone Trooper from Star Wars, a scary Michigan football fan and Wonder Woman. I had a great time last night spending time with the kids, interacting with some of our neighbors, creating memories and eating some Reese's peanut butter cups!



Examples of Lori's and my pumpkin carving skills (Batman, Star Wars and Wonder Woman)