Monday, April 27, 2009

Eerie Similarities at Kent State

Kent State University is a place that is dear to my heart. I spent six years there as a campus minister, established a number of lifelong friendships and began my married life with Lori there. In fact, it was on front campus on a sunny October afternoon nearly twelve years ago that I asked her to marry me.

It is because of my fondness for Kent that I was disappointed to learn about the student-led riots that took place this past weekend that led to tense altercations with police and multiple arrests.

It is almost 39 years to the week that tragedy fell on the campus on May 4, 1970. On that day four Kent students were killed by bullets from the National Guard during a protest of the Vietnam war. Four decades later this event remains one of the primary symbols of that era of American history.

The most recent disturbance seems to have been a party that got out of hand. Near the end of final exams students often want to blow off some steam and alcohol is typically involved. A recent article on outlines what happened, but it sounds like there were a lot of students partying outside, the police showed up and then exerted some force by firing rubber pellets into crowds (This imagery at Kent is chilling). The students responded by starting some fires.

Although this type of behavior is not acceptable anywhere, Kent State is a unique place because of the 1970 shootings. Those events still play a pivotal role in the image and life of the university. The shootings define Kent, Ohio in much the same way that Dallas is linked to President Kennedy's assassination and Memphis is remembered for the murder of Dr. King. Students that weren't even born yet know the history of the shootings and the university and law enforcement haven't forgotten either.

I learned very early on during my time at Kent that you needed to hold your opinions about the May 4th shootings to yourself. You never knew when you would be talking to a student whose mom was in the crowd of students or whose dad was in the National Guard on that fateful day. I hope that both current students and present law enforcement would learn from their history in order to prevent another senseless tragedy from happening in that quaint northeastern Ohio town that I love.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Is Facebook Harming Us?

With the increasing popularity of online social networking sites like MySpace, Facebook and Twitter, there has been an obvious cry about the virtual connections that people are making online. Terms like "false community" and "fake friendships" get bandied about regularly, usually from older generations that are unfamiliar with these new forms of media.

As a minister that works with college students, I am familiar with the dominant role that online networking plays in the lives of young people. Although I am genuinely concerned that these online connections will take the place of face-to-face interactions, but I don't feel that they are "all bad." Just like anything else, things like Facebook have positive aspects, as well as negative ones. It's up to us to choose how we will use them.

Agreed, there are those that have an unhealthy addictions online. I know people that spend hours each day on Facebook posting pictures, writing on people's walls, taking quizzes, playing games and searching for new friends. If they are never spending time socially live and in person with friends, that should be a concern.

Because of my role in our ministry, I have the opportunity to travel and meet lots of new people. Many of these individuals are on Facebook and I become "friends" with them online after meeting them. On average, I probably spend less than 15 minutes a day on Facebook for personal reasons. I spend additional time on there when it's related to our ministry, but it's not a huge time commitment.

Since I have close to 1,000 Facebook friends, one might assume that most of those friends are people I've never met. That assumption would be false. There are probably 20-30 people that I haven't met personally and most of those we have a legitimate connection through a mutual friend. Granted, a lot of my friends on Facebook are merely acquaintances that I've only met once or twice. But establishing an online friendship with them has allowed me to stay in touch and get to know them better.

Some would argue that those friendships are meaningless because it is taking place virtually and not face-to-face. But would they wish that we lost touch altogether? Because of Facebook, I've been able to re-establish connections with friends from childhood and relatives that I hardly ever get to see. Because I've lived in several different parts of the country and frequently travel, I have friends all over the place. Facebook allows me to keep in touch with those friends in way that a yearly Christmas card doesnn't allow.

Facebook is not inherently bad. We have a choice on how we want to utilize it. As my friend Ryan McReynolds wisely notes, we could easily compare Facebook to the printing press or the telephone. Some of the most ardent critics of Facebook are those that spend significant time curled up with books written by dead people that they'll never meet. The irony is striking. Face-to-face communication should be our preferred method of relating to one another, but when that isn't possible, I'd rather connect online than not connect at all.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Steven Curtis Chapman Wins Artist of the Year

Steven Curtis Chapman, the most prolific winner in the history of the Gospel Music Association (GMA), took home the Artist of the Year award last night at the 40th annual Dove Awards. Throughout his successful career, Chapman has won over fifty Doves. He was also awarded the Songwriter of the Year award this year.

The Artist of the Year trophy comes less than a year after Chapman and his wife, Mary Beth, lost one of their daughters, Maria, in a freak accident at home. The Chapmans have admirably and courageously shared their experiences with the world and have been true representatives of Jesus during a very difficult time of their life. It is nice to see the Contemporary Christian Music industry honor acknowledge their influence in this way.

On another note, it was good to see Tenth Avenue North take home the New Artist of the Year award. The guys in the band are from nearby us here in central Florida and I've had the opportunity to talk with them on several occasions when they've led worship at ministry events that I've been a part of. They are genuine in their faith and talented musicians. It's good to see them get exposure on a national level.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Miss USA, Perez Hilton & Gay Marriage

Ordinarily the Miss USA pageant doesn't drum up much attention. That is, of course, unless one of the contestants says something remarkably unintelligent or highly controversial. This year happened to be one of those years as Miss California, Carrie Prejean, answered a direct question with an honest answer.

Perez Hilton, the well-known celebrity blogger, was one of the celebrity judges and asked Prejean how she felt about the legalization of gay marriage. In a relatively gracious manner, she shared that she felt that marriage should be between a man and woman. Well, that was not the answer that Hilton was looking for and he has gone on the attack since.

The clip below includes Miss California's answer during the pageant's telecast and some remarks from Hilton the day after. Please clip here if the video player doesn't show up.

What I find interesting is that Perez feels that Prejean's belief that marriage should be reserved for a man and woman does not represent all Americans. Well, of course it doesn't! This is a divisive issue that Americans don't agree on. Does he feel that had she answered that she supported gay marriage that it would represent all Americans?! That answer would have "alienated" and "divided" even more Americans. Perhaps it was Hilton who was the one attempting to be alienating and divisive.

Whether Hilton, an openly gay man, wants to admit it or not, there are millions of Americans that hold to the belief that those of the same sex should not be able to get married. And many of us have that belief on the basis of holy Scripture, including Miss California. The reality is that those of us that seek to a life based on the Bible are going to encounter disagreement and persecution. Our worldview often goes against the grain of what is popularly accepted opinion. This should not surprise us nor threaten us.

In fact, Jesus told us that we should expect these kinds of things to happen. Prejean has admirably held to her opinion and remained steadfast to what she said. Hilton, on the other hand, has given a greater indication of his maturity level when he decided to refer to Prejean as a b****. When asked in the clip above if he apologized for that, he held to what he said and gleefully shared that he was actually thinking of calling her an even crasser derogatory word for females. Real classy, Perez.

Just as Carrie Prejean is entitled to her opinion, so is Perez Hilton. I don't have a problem with him holding a belief that contradicts my own. But if he's going to ask a question of someone in a public forum and not be prepared to receive an answer he disagrees with then maybe he should ask himself if he's really the one that is intolerant.

Monday, April 20, 2009

The New Detroit Lions Logo

When all else fails, I guess you can change your team logo. Here's the new Lions logo that was unveiled earlier today. New team president, Tom Lewand, had this to say:
"It's not just about a transformed lion. This is about transforming our brand."
Hopefully that transformation will take place on the scoreboard also. Read more about this changes here.

(Photo courtesy of The Detroit News)

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Forgetting When God Has Come Through

I had the privilege this past week of watching for the second time one of the most intense and well-made movies I have ever seen, Christopher Nolan's Memento. The movie follows the story of Leonard Shelby (Guy Pearce), a man who is unable to develop new memories.

During a brutal attack on his wife, Leonard suffered a head injury and though he can remember everything before the incident, he now suffers from short-term memory loss and is unable to remember anything for more than a few minutes. He brings order to his life through the use of Polaroid pictures, notes and tattoos.

In order to bring purpose to his life, he spends his time trying to track down his wife's killer. Since he is unsure who he can trust, Leonard relies heavily on these notes and pictures that he has written to himself. But the brilliance in the movie is found in its complicated story-telling. There are dual story lines going on as most of the movie is told in chronologically reverse order whereas another story line is told chronologically. It begins with the end and ends with the beginning. Fascinating movie making!

But as I neared the end of this viewing, I came to the realization of how often I am like Leonard. I, too, suffer from short-term memory loss when it comes to God's provision. I often forget the various ways that God has come through in the past and haphazardly rely on my own devices to make sense of life.

To be honest, the past handful months have not been real enjoyable for me. There have been a number of challenges in life and ministry that I frankly wish I didn't have to go through. Much of life has not been fun but it just happens to be the stage of life that God has me at right now. But as a believer in Christ, I know how the story ends. It's just the details that need to get worked out.

I think back a few years ago to a similar period in life when I was dealing with some disappointment and hurt. I didn't understand why God had taken us through a bit of a desert experience. But I can understand it now. He allowed us to go through that season in order to deepen our faith and to prepare us for what He had in store for us down the road. I'm thankful for that difficult time because I feel like it's prepared me for what we are going through now. I'm able to weather this storm because of how I've seen God come through before.

In the midst of difficult times it is so easy for me to forget the many times that God has answered prayers, met needs and provided what was needed at just the right moment. He is the director of my life and yours and He knows the script. We are part of a divine drama where Jesus is the lead and we are just bit players. This story involves good and evil, joy and sorrow and a cosmic conflict played out for thousands of years. I know how the story ends. I just hope I don't forget that.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Mark "The Bird" Fidrych Passes Away

Today is a sad day for Detroit Tigers fans everywhere as it has been learned that former Tigers pitcher, Mark "The Bird" Fidrych, passed away at his home in Massachusetts. He was 54 years old.

For those that don't remember, Fidrych captured the nation's attention during a magical summer of 1976 when he was the starting pitcher for the American League in the All-Star game and ended up becoming the A.L. Rookie of the Year after winning 19 games and leading the league with a 2.34 ERA.

His quirky approach to baseball gained him fans everywhere and he became something of a mythic figure in Detroit. I was only three years old during his summer in the spotlight and although he never returned to that form again, I quickly learned of his exploits as a young Tigers fan. In fact, I remember reading this little paperback book about him when I was a little kid. The picture to the left is of a card that I distinctly remember having when I was little.

There are few athletes that are still remembered thirty years after only one season of high performance. But "The Bird" is one of those few. Baseball and its fans still miss his personality and love of the game. His '76 season harkens back to an era before big money, steroids and free agency ruined the game. He will be missed.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

My Redeemer Lives

I woke up yesterday with the song "Redeemer" by Nicole C Mullen running through my head. It offers a glorious picture of the Messiah who gave His life for yours and mine. The importance of the resurrection of Christ is particularly significant to me this Easter season in light of the challenges that life has thrown my way in recent months. But I realize some of the difficulties and disappointments that I have face pale in comparison to what many others are going through.

I had the chance to visit my good friend, Chris Restuccia, this morning. Chris is courageously fighting cancer, which is now in Stage 4, and has had some complications recently. He's lost a lot of weight and is in the hospital once again in order to get a feeding tube inserted so that he can get the nutrition he needs. His cancer is of the esophagus, has spread to his lungs and has affected his digestive system dramatically. His attitude is positive but we know that it will take God to intervene to heal him.

I trust that God will choose to heal my friend and he'll have many years together with his wife and children. But whether Chris lives on this earth for many more years or not, we take comfort in knowing that the grave has already been conquered. Jesus won against sin and sickness and death over 2,000 years ago and all those that place their faith in Him have the promise of eternal life. I am so glad that my Redeemer lives.

Redeemer by Nicole C Mullen

Who taught the sun where to stand in the morning
Who told the ocean you can only come this far?
Who showed the moon where to hide 'til evening
Whose words alone can catch a falling star?

Well I know my Redeemer lives
I know my Redeemer lives
All of creation testify
This life within me cries
I know my Redeemer lives

The very same God that spins things in orbit
He runs to the weary, the worn and the weak
And the same gentle hands that hold me when I'm broken
They conquered death to bring me victory

Now I know my Redeemer lives
I know my Redeemer lives
Let all creation testify
Let this life within me cry
I know my Redeemer, He lives

To take away my shame
And He lives forever I'll proclaim
That the payment for my sin
Was the precious life He gave
But now He's alive
And there's an empty grave.

And I know my Redeemer,
He lives
I know my Redeemer lives
Let all creation testify
This life within me cries
I know my Redeemer lives
Here is a moving live performance of this song. Please click here if the video player doesn't show up.

Thursday, April 09, 2009

The Legacy of The Impact Movement

Rev. Matthew Watts is the respected pastor of Grace Bible Church in Charleston, West Virginia and the president of HOPE Community Development Corporation. At our most recent Impact national conference, Pastor Watts delivered one of the most rousing and inspiring messages that I have ever witnessed during an Impact conference main session.

He has been familiar with The Impact Movement since its beginning and is a dear friend of the ministry. As evidence of his commitment to Impact, Pastor Watts recently wrote an Op-Ed commentary in The Charleston Gazette writing of his support of The Impact Movement. You can read the whole article here, but here is a highlight:
"The Impact Movement may very well the most strategically positioned initiatives in the country to raise up the spiritual and moral leadership needed in the African-American community. This would make Charles and Rebecca Gilmer two of the African-American community's most important leaders. What God is doing through the Impact Movement will do more to positively change the African-American community than Barack Obama's election as president because Impact is raising up the next generation of servant leaders. The Impact Movement may very well be the best-kept secret in the African-American community in this country. It may also be one of the most important initiatives that God will use to revitalize the African-American community in this nation by calling us back to our spiritual heritage."

Saturday, April 04, 2009

A Caution for Charismatic Christians

Within the family of the Christian faith, those that define themselves as charismatic offer many strengths to the Body of Christ. Among them are a desire for genuine worship, an emphasis on prayer and fasting and a strong belief that God still intervenes in miraculous ways today.

However, these strengths can easily become weaknesses when taken to extremes. A spiritual "anointing" can become justification for sexual indiscretion. A spiritual experience can be considered worship whether God is in the picture or not. And naive folks looking for a miracle can be taken in by Elmer Gantry-type preachers.

But, of course, all Christians are susceptible to allowing the strengths of their churches become weaknesses. Many churches and denominations are so set on getting their doctrinal statements all lined up in a row that they miss God in the process. Christianity becomes a set of theoretical beliefs rather than a life that is transformed. We all need to do some self-examination on whether the faith we are experiencing and believe in is real and genuine.

J. Lee Grady, editor for Charisma magazine, one of the leading magazines for charismatic Christians, has some choice words for his brethren. He has this to say:
"It's ironic that our society does not tolerate sloppy building, yet in the charismatic church we place little emphasis on code enforcement. In fact, in our freewheeling movement we celebrate the independent spiritual contractor who uses questionable materials and answers to no one. Much of our movement during the past 30 years has been built like this—and today we are discovering that what we thought was sturdy was actually stuck together with cheap nails, substandard wood, thin glue and duct tape."
Although the following suggestions from Grady may be directed towards those within his stream of Christianity, I certainly think they apply for all of us that consider ourselves Christians. Here are four areas that he chooses to focus on:
1. Sexual purity. It should go without saying that church leaders must live in moral and marital faithfulness. Yet when we look around today we find that ministries are tolerant of flippant divorce, hidden adultery and even unspeakable perversion. Some ministers admit to serious moral failures yet they never step out of ministry even for a week to get counseling. God has issued His clear warning. Ministries that tolerate sexual sin are already crumbling. It does not matter how big your auditorium is, how massive your television outreach, how many people shout during Sunday sermons or how enduring your spiritual legacy may seem. You can preach about God's grace all you want, but you are trampling on that grace if you continue to practice immorality.
2. Financial integrity. Jesus drove the greedy moneychangers out of His temple with a whip. He requires faithfulness of His stewards. Ministries that have committed spiritual extortion will have a day of reckoning—not necessarily with the IRS but certainly with the heavenly Auditor. Those who sell prophecies or charge $1,000 to gullible people to make them "spiritual sons" will soon lose their platforms. Those who misuse God's money to buy Bentleys, vacation homes and expensive clothes and shoes will soon experience the Great Repo.
3. Christlike humility. We cannot build God's house with pride and carnality. In the early days of our movement God winked at our immaturity—but we have no excuse today. Mature leaders should act like servants, not rock stars or mafia bosses. We must trade in our entourages and high-minded demands and return to the way of the Master—which includes the manger (humble beginnings), the donkey (a humble ministry style) and the towel (serving those we are called to lead). God resists the proud, and any church that embraces the bless-me gospel of egotistical charlatans will not enjoy His manifest presence.
4. Theological soundness. We can walk in humility, integrity and purity and still fail if we mix error with truth. We must preach Christ and Him crucified. We must contend for the faith that was delivered to the saints. We must guard the flock from deception and avoid the subtle lies and compromises that creep in from our culture and from occult influences. In segments of our movement today, charismatic theology has been diluted with New Age spirituality, universalism, pop psychology, Gnosticism, false prophecy and just plain weirdness. We need to reactivate the neglected gift of discernment and get rid of the theological hay and stubble that has caused our movement to lose its credibility.
As was mentioned, all of these areas need to be given due attention whether one considers themself to be Charismatic, Baptist, Methodist, Presbyterian, Catholic or non-denominational. A church that is made up of humble, morally pure, financially trustworthy people who are committed to God's Word will cause the world to take notice. Unfortunately, a prideful, immoral, deceitful, wishy-washy people will do the same -- but for all the wrong reasons.

Thursday, April 02, 2009

The Orlando Magic & April Fools

Lori and I were able to have a fun time last night along with a couple of our kids at the Orlando Magic vs. the Toronto Raptors game last night. Thanks to the Orlando public school system, Brennan and Leah received free tickets for their good grades this year. Of course, Lori and I had to pay for ours (nothing is completely free in the land of Mickey Mouse.)

It was a good game and we had a great time with the kids. But the best time of the night came at halftime. Earlier in the game, they had selected a random fan to try to make a half-court short in order to win $100,000. Halftime rolled around and the announcer informed us that the guy was going to be blindfolded during his shot attempt.

He also told us that the whole arena was going to act as if the man made the shot so that we could play an April Fool's Day joke on him. So dude comes out and gets blindfolded. He heaves up a pathetic shot and the whole place erupts. The mascots start jumping on him, music blaring, lights are flashing and he's told that he made the shot. Once it sinks in, the guy starts running around the floor celebrating like crazy.

The announcer asks him what he'll do with the 100 grand and he says that he was just laid off from his job so this is all great. They then give him one of those fake, over sized checks (made out for $100,000) and have him turn it around. On the back, it says "April Fools." The guy looks dumbfounded, embarrassed and somewhat angry. The announcer explains that his girlfriend, who is there, set him up and this is all in good fun. They then had him a 100 Grand candy bar and send him on his way.

A great April Fool's Day joke, huh? Albeit cruel, but funny, right? Well, it appears the joke was on us. According to Orlando Sentinel sports writer, David Whitley, the guy was actually an actor and the only people who got fooled were those of us in the stands. I felt bad for the guy so finding that out was a great topping to a great evening.

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

The Spartans, Detroit & The Final Four

Although I am a die hard Michigan Wolverine fan, I couldn't helped but be pleased to see the Michigan State Spartans advance to the Final Four once again. Not only is this Coach Tom Izzo's fifth trip to the sacred ground of college basketball, but this year's event happens to be taking place in the once proud, now struggling city of Detroit.

I have commented before on the current realities of Detroit and the state of Michigan so I won't go into all that again. I no longer reside in Michigan, but my heart remains there. So it is good to see something that the state can be proud of and to see it happening in our major city tops it off.

As I already mentioned, my loyalties lie with the Wolverines, but I have the utmost respect for the Michigan State basketball program. They consistently play well-coached, team basketball and can hang with anybody in the country (as evidenced by Sunday's win over my favorite to win the NCAA tourney, Louisville.)

Jemele Hill, a native of Detroit and now a writer for ESPN, has written another superb article on the Motor City. You can read her complete piece here, but here's a highlight:
"The opportunity to play in our state, especially with some of the struggles [the state of Michigan] has gone through this past year, I guess I felt a little bit like hopefully we can be, you know, the sun shining through some pretty cloudy areas," Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said.
"But it seems like a lot of people are happy for Michigan State and Detroit, even if they don't fully understand how important this is. Most people I know aren't Michigan State supporters, yet as soon as the Spartans beat Louisville, my cell phone practically turned into an active heart defibrillator. Text messages flew in from everywhere. I'm starting to think that during Final Four week, Detroit's official license plate slogan should be changed to, "The 4 is in the D!" because I must have received that text message about 263 times."
"We've always stated our team's a blue-collar team ever since I came here -- and there's no better blue-collar city than Detroit and all the things they go through," Izzo said."