Sunday, February 27, 2011

Theodore Roosevelt on Critics

Photo Credit: Wesley Fryer
How to respond to critics, from President Theodore Roosevelt:
"It is not the critic who counts: not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles or where the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly, who errs and comes up short again and again, because there is no effort without error or shortcoming, but who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, who spends himself for a worthy cause; who, at the best, knows, in the end, the triumph of high achievement, and who, at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who knew neither victory nor defeat."

Friday, February 25, 2011

What Can We All Learn From Clarence Thomas?

Photo Credit: U.S. Government
Depending upon your political leanings, the title of this post may either intrigue or repulse you. For many political conservatives, Associate Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court Clarence Thomas serves as an example of a man who has lived out the American Dream.  An African American man who was born before the Civil Rights movement and grew up in the South, Justice Thomas has risen to the heights of the legal profession as a member of the U.S. Supreme Court.

For many political liberals, though, especially for some in the black community, Thomas is a reminder of a black man who has turned his back on African Americans by stating his opposition to affirmative action programs that many believe he benefited from in order to advance to where he is today.

My purpose of this post is not to comment on my personal feelings on the political persuasions of Justice Thomas, but rather to reflect on the reason that he made the news this past week. It has now been over five years since Clarence Thomas has asked a question of a lawyer that has been presenting a case before the Supreme Court.

Five years! That's a long time. To give some perspective, the Detroit Lions have won a whopping 18 games since the last time Clarence Thomas asked a question in a case before him.  Wait...that's probably not the best example but you catch my drift.

I'm not a lawyer nor do I have much experience with the U.S. justice system (thankfully), but I'm guessing that it might be good for members of the Supreme Court to ask a clarifying question every now and again. But Justice Thomas has not. Not for over five years.

For those that are not supporters of his, this is evidence of his unfitness for the Court. But I do wonder if there is something else going on here that we can all learn from. What are his reasons for his silence, you ask? This is what Thomas has had to say when asked about this:
"I had grown up speaking a kind of dialect," Thomas, who was born in Pin Point, Ga., and raised by his grandparents in nearby Savannah, told a group of students in 2000. Classmates "used to make fun of us. ... I just started developing the habit of listening. ... I didn't ask questions in college or law school. I could learn better just listening."

More recently, Thomas said he thought lawyers should be able to do more of the talking during the hour-long sessions, to better explain their legal positions.

"I think there are far too many questions," he said in a 2009 interview with C-SPAN. "Some members of the court like that interaction. ... I prefer to listen and think it through more quietly."

Referring implicitly to how active his eight colleagues are in their questioning, Thomas said, "I think you should allow people to complete their answers and their thought and to continue their conversation. I find that coherence that you get from a conversation far more helpful than the rapid-fire questions. I don't see how you can learn a whole lot when there are 50 questions in an hour."
Perhaps there is something that we can learn from Clarence Thomas when it comes to listening to others. In fact, it may even be a biblical concept. James 1:19 says, "My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry." I wonder how our relationships with others could be transformed if we decided to refrain from providing answers for everyone and listened more to their thoughts? What if we sought the opinions of others more freely and held back from expressing our own?

Perhaps if we talked less and listened more, others would listen more attentively when we did have something to say. I'm sure that if Clarence Thomas ever does ask another question during a case that it will be given its full attention. There are probably some ways that I wouldn't want to emulate Clarence Thomas but becoming a better listener is one way I'd want to follow his example.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Do Christian Men Have an Obligation to Marry Young?

Photo Credit: hanzabean
Kay S. Hymowitz has written a fascinating article for the Wall Street Journal Online about the trend we are seeing of men that seem to be intentionally delaying adulthood by avoiding marriage and parenthood until much later in life.

Hymowitz quotes comedienne and author, Julie Klausner:
"We are sick of hooking up with guys," writes the comedian Julie Klausner, author of a touchingly funny 2010 book, "I Don't Care About Your Band: What I Learned from Indie Rockers, Trust Funders, Pornographers, Felons, Faux-Sensitive Hipsters and Other Guys I've Dated." What Ms. Klausner means by "guys" is males who are not boys or men but something in between. "Guys talk about 'Star Wars' like it's not a movie made for people half their age; a guy's idea of a perfect night is a hang around the PlayStation with his bandmates, or a trip to Vegas with his college friends.... They are more like the kids we babysat than the dads who drove us home." One female reviewer of Ms. Kausner's book wrote, "I had to stop several times while reading and think: Wait, did I date this same guy?"
Hymowitz goes onto identify that ambiguous stage of life that more and more men are occupying for longer periods of time -- pre-adulthood.  Those classified in the pre-adulthood stage are males that may be post-college age-wise (mid 20's and up), but are living life fundamentally no differently than they did while in their teens or early 20's.  (If you're having a difficult time envisioning this, picture Adam Sandler in nearly any movie that he has ever been in.) 

How could this be a problem?  Well, if you're a single women that is looking for a man who you can settle down and start a family with, it may seem like slim pickings when examining the field.  For most women, the ideal potential husband probably has showered within the last 24 hours, does not regularly go out with "bed head", and doesn't occupy a job that could easily be filled by a fifteen year old high school student.  A pre-adult doesn't fully understand that adulthood not only brings with it independence from one's parents but also responsibility to be a productive member of society.

For the pre-adult male that is perpetually stuck in a state of "21-ness", marriage and family could be the last thing on his mind. Hymowitz comments further:
"Unlike adolescents, however, pre-adults don't know what is supposed to come next. For them, marriage and parenthood come in many forms, or can be skipped altogether. In 1970, just 16% of Americans ages 25 to 29 had never been married; today that's true of an astonishing 55% of the age group. In the U.S., the mean age at first marriage has been climbing toward 30 (a point past which it has already gone in much of Europe). It is no wonder that so many young Americans suffer through a "quarter-life crisis," a period of depression and worry over their future."
In many ways, I have a hard time relating to men that live life well into their 30's and 40's without any plans to marry and have children.  Fairly early on during my time in college, I began praying about whether I thought God would want me to get married and prayed specifically about the type of woman that I would want to marry.  When I believed I had met her, I didn't waste any time.  I met my now-wife when I was 24 and married her shortly after I turned 25 (we were wed less than a year after meeting).  We had our first three children by the time I was 30.  Needless to say, if there was any boy left in me, I was forced to grow up due to the responsibilities inherent in being a husband and father.

Mark Driscoll, a pastor in Seattle, wrote a controversial article on this very topic several months ago.  In the article, Driscoll pulls no punches as he describes these pre-adult men as "boys who can shave."  Look at some of what he had to say:
"What happens if you walk into the church and try to find out what a man looks like? First of all, you're not going to find a lot of guys in most evangelical churches. The least likely person to see in church is a single, twenty-something male. He is as rare at church as a vegan at a steak house.

In the world, boys who can shave are children who are consumers. In the church, boys who can shave are cowards who are complainers.

A buddy of mine calls them evangellyfish because they have no backbone. They don't declare a major, church, theology, or fiancé. They don't want to fail and they think if they don't try, then they can't fail. And by definition, that's a failure.

They are, however, endowed with the spiritual gift of complaining. They say, "I hate the church. The church just wants my money." As if the church wants his futon, Xbox, light beer, and computer filled with free Internet porn.

Here's the cold hard truth: it's a lot harder to do something than it is to complain about those who are doing something. The notorious sin of Christian guys is complaining about guys who are doing something rather than doing something."
While Driscoll's words certainly are pointed, I have to admit that I agree with much of what he has to say. Boys are tentative, irresponsible and wait for others to do things for them. Men take initiative, willingly accept responsibility and gladly call others to follow them.  But does this mean that Christian men that wait until later in life to marry are in sin?

First, there is no age that the Bible states when a man should marry. Throughout history men have generally married at a variety of ages, depending upon the era and culture in which they lived. So I don't think there is a "right" age for all men to seek out marriage.

Second, marriage is not for everyone. There have been some great men throughout history (both Jesus Christ and the Apostle Paul come to mind) that did not marry because they felt they could serve God more faithfully without the responsibilities of marriage. So a man that feels called by God to a single and celibate lifestyle for the sake of the gospel should be applauded.

Third, there are men that desperately want to get married and God has just not brought the right woman across their path. They are committed to living a God-honoring lifestyle and are not willing to compromise their convictions just because they have a desire to get married. These men, too, should be admired and esteemed.

However, I think that the trends show that there is an increasing number of Christian men that are prolonging marriage because they simply don't want to accept the responsibilities that come with having a wife and, possibly, children. It is not that they feel called to singleness or aren't interested in women, they simply don't want to grow up and move on to the next stage of life.

Being a husband and father forces us to grow up and truly live as men and that scares a lot of guys.  These "boys who can shave" realize that having a wife will mean that they will be responsible to and for someone else and that is intimidating.  It means they will not just be living for themselves anymore but will need to take someone else into account.

But their passivity affects others whether they realize it or not.  There are literally millions of godly, available women that are searching for a husband in a world seemingly made up of boys. I know of too many women that are waiting for a man of initiative to pursue them yet the single men that they interact with are too busy playing video games and hanging out with their buddies.

It can grow wearisome for Christian women to wait for years for a godly man to pursue them and settle for any nice guy that shows an interest in them. My advice to women is to not settle when it comes to your dating relationships and the choice of a husband. If you want to be married to a man, don't date a boy.

For the men out there, Driscoll has this advice:
"Men, you are to be creators and cultivators. God is a creator and a cultivator and you were made to image him. Create a family and cultivate your wife and children. Create a ministry and cultivate other people. Create a business and cultivate it. Be a giver, not a taker, a producer and not just a consumer. Stop looking for the path of least resistance and start running down the path of greatest glory to God and good to others because that's what Jesus, the real man, did."

Friday, February 18, 2011

Gerald Ford, Racism and the Importance of Friendship

Photo Credit: National Institutes of Health Library
Gerald Ford is most well-known as the 38th President of the United States but few people probably realize that back in his college days he was an outstanding football player at the University of Michigan.

Ford, who could have played professional football had he chosen to, instead went to law school, joined the Navy during World War II and eventually entered politics.  President Ford holds the unique distinction of having been the only U.S. President to never have been popularly elected into the office of Vice President or President.  (As a member of the U.S. House of Representatives during the Watergate scandal, Ford was selected to fill the role of Vice President when Spiro Agnew stepped down and eventually became President when Richard Nixon resigned.)

But the character that President Ford demonstrated in leading the country during the aftermath of Watergate was demonstrated years earlier during his time as a Wolverine football player.  Detroit News writer John Niyo tells the story of the time in 1934 when Michigan was preparing to play Georgia Tech, a southern school who demanded that Michigan not play Willis Ward, U of M's only African American player.

Sadly, Michigan complied and coach Fielding Yost benched Ward for the game. Ford, who threatened to quit the team because of the unfair treatment of his friend and teammate, was talked into participating in the game but let his play on the field do his talking. This situation had a profound influence on the future president and it was an experience that neither he nor Ward ever forgot:
"On Monday morning, (Ford) and Bill Borgmann told me that they'd done something during the game for me and … I'll never forget it," Ward said. "It seems as though as the game got started, a fellow on the other side of the line made a remark about him loving people like me. And his adjectives, they were 'bleep' adjectives, so I won't use it. Whereupon Jerry and Bill put a block on him that ended that fellow's participation in the game. So they came back that Monday and told me that they dedicated that block to me."

Long after his presidency, Ford, who'd remained friends with Ward through the years, noted that 1934 incident "had a significant impact" on his views on race relations.

"I admired him because of his character and intelligence," Ford wrote in 1995, more than a decade after Ward, who served as a state court judge and chairman of the Michigan Public Service Commission (1969-73), passed away in 1983. "I deeply resented those who did not treat him as an equal because he was black."

And that played a role in Ford's decision to take another stand at the age of 86, when he publicly backed the affirmative action policies that were under fire at his alma mater and other universities. Ford submitted an Op-Ed piece to the New York Times and quietly encouraged others to fight the legal battle that ultimately led to a landmark 2003 Supreme Court ruling that upheld the Michigan Law School's policy.

"Do we really want to risk turning back the clock to an era when the Willis Wards were isolated and penalized for the color of their skin, their economic standing or national ancestry?" Ford wrote in the Times, nearly 70 years after that Georgia Tech game."
Both Ford and Ward went on to lead lives of prominence and their friendship remained strong until their dying days. And while President Ford should be admired for the stance that he took during a time of accepted racial animosity toward African Americans, the real hero of the story is Willis Ward.  Here is a man that faced consistent discrimination (the Georgia Tech game is just one example) yet went onto to get a degree from one of the most prestigious universities in the country and later became a state court judge.  His determination and fortitude are to be commended. 

Their story, as well as a number of others, will be told in a series of films highlighting the history of University of Michigan football entitled, "Victors." To view the trailer for the film featuring the story of Willis Ward and Gerald Ford, please watch the video below. If the video player doesn't show up please click here.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Christian Unity in the Midst of Diversity

Photo Credit: jasoneppink
In his book, Many Colors: Cultural Intelligence for a Changing Church, Soong-Chan Rah challenges Christians to consider how our cultural assumptions and values can affect our interactions with one another within the Christian community. Since we are all a part of a given culture, each of us is shaped by a perspective on the world that is not necessarily shared by everyone else that we interact with. Learning about our own cultural grid can help us in gaining a greater appreciation for the culture of others as we seek to live out biblical unity within our diversity.

In chapter four of his book, Dr. Rah contrasts five different cultural expressions that deeply impact our relationships with others and our perspective on the world around us. These expressions are not considered good or bad in comparison to one another but are quite different, nonetheless. Here are the cultural expressions that he focuses on, including brief descriptions from the book:
Individual vs. Group Orientation

"In a culture oriented toward the individual, the focus is on the individual taking initiative. People are judged on individual traits, and individual priorities are often placed ahead of the group. In a group-oriented culture, however, the focus is on acting cooperatively with a high priority of friendships and relationships. Identity is determined through group affiliation, and members put the team or group before the individual."

Guilt vs. Shame

"Shame…arises out of a group-oriented consciousness, while guilt emerges from a sense of individualism. Shame focuses on becoming a person of honor, while guilt focuses on having a clear conscience. Shame deals with one’s core identity and a sense of duty to fulfill moral obligations arising for the social context. Guilt attempts to arrive at a clear conscience and the avoidance of sin. Build can be seen as "the emotional core of our conscience" while shame can be seen as "the emotional core of our identity." Guilt is corrected by personal confession, while shame is corrected by transformation."

Equality vs. Hierarchy

"A culture of equality means that individuals can make assumptions about a degree of equality implicit in the group. An individual is usually not limited in his/her role because of position. There are assumptions that all of the participants have equal access and opportunity. In contrast, those who fall on the hierarchy end of the spectrum prefer to take direction from those above, have strong limitations about appropriate behavior for certain rules, respect and not challenge those in power because of their status and position, and enforce regulations and guidelines."

Direct vs. Indirect

"Individuals in direct culture are more forthright in speaking and less concerned about how it is said. They openly confront issues and engage in conflict. Direct conversations focus on short, matter-of-fact questions in order to show respect for the person’s time, and the best type of answer is presented for informational purposes only. For indirect culture, however, it is not just what is said, but how it is said. There is a tendency to avoid difficult or contentious issues and to avoid conflict altogether. Indirect culture focuses on not offending the other person and keeping that "feel-good" atmosphere."

Task vs. Relationship

"Those who have a strong task orientation tend to define people based on what they do. They tend to get right to business with the assumptions that relationships will come later. Because of this high task orientation, this group will allow work to overlap with personal time. In a task-oriented culture, personal relationships and issues often distract from the important task at hand. Personal feelings are kept separate from objective issues. The focus is on getting the job done and handling the task in a logic-oriented manner. In a relationship-oriented culture, people are defined based on who they are. Before getting down to business, it is important to establish relationships. And certainly work should not impinge on personal and family life. In this cultural context, there is a strong feeling orientation. Communication in a relationship-oriented culture has the primary goal to promote a "feel good" atmosphere and a friendly environment."
By understanding our own cultural expressions, we will be in a better position to relate to others that may come from a different cultural background. In turn, we will begin to value how other cultures fill in the gaps of our own and we will also see the contribution that our unique culture can bring to the Body of Christ.  Having spent a good portion of my adult life in a cultural context that is not my own, I have become more aware of the subtle (and not so subtle) ways that our culture affects our views on the world and shapes our perspective on what is right and wrong.

Although there are some things that are always right or always wrong (for example, rape is never justifiable), much of what we as Christians naturally assume to be biblical is actually cultural in nature (for example, whether a church uses hymn books or not). By becoming a good student of both the Bible and of culture, we will become more adept at recognizing (and appreciating) the diversity that God has given to us. We will also grow in humility as we seek to learn from and esteem those that are different from us. God does not want us to all be the same but He does want us all to be one.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Should We Be Scared of the Fame Monster?

Photo Credit: ama_lia
The late, great artist Andy Warhol famously claimed that, "In the future, everyone will be world-famous for fifteen minutes."  Unfortunately for us, it appears that the future has arrived.  From reality television characters to YouTube sensations, new stars rise among us each day, only to evaporate within hours or days.

You only need to watch an episode of American Idol auditions to witness the thousands of people hoping to become famous.  Hoping for the riches and power that fame brings along with it, self-glorifying wannabe superstars will do whatever it takes to get their mug on camera or on the Internet.  And it's not just adults trying to become famous.  More and more parents are putting their children forth in the hopes that an adoring public will embrace them.

But we have to ask ourselves, "Is the fame worth it?"  With all the money and popularity and recognition and "stuff" that fame brings, is it really worth it?  Apparently, Billy Ray Cyrus doesn't think so.  In a recent GQ interview, Cyrus worries about what fame has done to his family and the toll that it has taken on his daughter, Miley (of Disney's Hannah Montana fame):
"How many interviews did I give and say, 'You know what's important between me and Miley is I try to be a friend to my kids'? I said it a lot. And sometimes I would even read other parents might say, 'You don't need to be a friend, you need to be a parent.' Well, I'm the first guy to say to them right now: You were right. I should have been a better parent. I should have said, 'Enough is enough — it's getting dangerous and somebody’s going to get hurt.' I should have, but I didn't. Honestly, I didn't know the ball was out of bounds until it was way up in the stands somewhere."
As is the case for many children thrust into the entertainment field at a young age, Miley Cyrus comes from a home with parents who identify themselves as Christians.  In a fascinating Wall Street Journal article entitled God at the Grammys: The Chosen Ones, writer Neil Strauss addresses this phenomenon of performers who feel that it is God's calling on their life to be famous.  From Lady Gaga to Eminem to Snoop Dogg to Christina Aguilera, many of today's top entertainers have a sense of "divine mission" when it comes to their art...and their fame.

Strauss comments:
"Before they were famous, many of the biggest pop stars in the world believed that God wanted them to be famous, that this was his plan for them, just as it was his plan for the rest of us not to be famous. Conversely, many equally talented but slightly less famous musicians I've interviewed felt their success was accidental or undeserved—and soon after fell out of the limelight...

Let's call it competitive theism, a self-styled spirituality that can be overlaid on any religion and has nothing to do with personal morality. This faith gap, I've noticed in the interviews I've done, is often what sets the merely famous apart from the ridiculously famous. It can make the difference between achieving what's possible and accomplishing what seems impossible...

This isn't to say that every person who tops the charts believes in God's will. There are plenty of exceptions, but fewer than you'd think. Contemporary pop stars have rarely declared themselves atheists. In fact, the pop stars condemned by religious groups have often been the most fervent believers, from Elvis Presley (who was reading a book about Jesus when he died in his bathroom) to Lady Gaga (whose "Born This Way," a new single launched with great fanfare this weekend, declares that "no matter gay, straight or bi," we are all part of God's plan)."
The fame monster is alive and well within our culture but I don't think it's God's doing. From what I know of God, his plan is that HE would become famous and that our job is to help in that process. In the words of John Piper, we are to make much of Him and not much of ourselves. This innate desire that we have as humans to make our name great goes back to ancient times and is vividly displayed early on in the Bible in the story of The Tower of Babel.

When our desire in life is to make God's name great, it will lead us to a greater sense of humility and service to others.  When we seek to make our own name great, it will ultimately lead to tragedy and heartbreak.  I do not say all of that to assert that everyone that is famous is not part of God's plan.  Within God's economy there probably are individuals that become well-known so that His purposes can be displayed through their life.  So, in a sense, their fame is part of His plan.

But to intentionally seek out fame and fortune for our own purposes will not lead to a place of contentment and fulfillment or in God being glorified.  We need look no further than the wake of broken relationships, substance addictions, bankruptcies and other calamities that befall so many that are famous to realize that fame is not a promise to a better life.

Since I am not famous and am not friends with anyone that would fit into that category, it would be unfair of me to say that fame and fulfillment can't go together.  I'm sure that there are some famous people that are truly happy and enjoy rich relationships with others and are able to put their money to good use.  But based on what I see from my limited perspective, I'm guessing that they are far and few between.

Our objective in life should not be to ask God to fit into our plans and bless what we're doing.  Our goal should be to find God's plan and what He is already blessing and fit our lives into that.  I prefer to make Him famous.  It just works out better that way.

(h/t to Get Religion for the link to the Strauss article.)

Monday, February 14, 2011

A Valentine's Day Reminder of God's Love

Photo Credit: hiOakie
Valentine's Day is a mixed bag. For those that are in a romantic relationship, it is a day spent demonstrating one's love for that special someone. For others it is a sad reminder of love gone wrong or love that has yet to be realized. For me, it is a combination of experiencing deep love for my wife and a haunting reminder of the loss of my brother (who passed away on this day 35 years ago).

Whatever your experience on February 14th may be, there is a comforting reality that God's love is extended to and available for us no matter what our circumstances. My favorite author, Brennan Manning, comments on God's love in his outstanding book, The Ragamuffin Gospel:
"Justification by grace through faith is the theologian's learned phrase for what Chesterton once called "the furious love of God." He is not moody or capricious; he knows no seasons of change. He has a single relentless stance toward us: he loves us. He is the only God man has ever heard of who loves sinners. False gods — the gods of human manufacturing — despise sinners, but the Father of Jesus loves all, no matter what they do. But of course this is almost too incredible for us to accept. Nevertheless, the central affirmation of the Reformation stands: through no merit of ours, but by his mercy, we have been restored to a right relationship with God through the life, death, and resurrection of his beloved Son. This is the Good News, the gospel of grace."
True and unconditional love, the type of love that God has for us, will never grow old and it will never leave. Whether you are in a dating relationship, married or unattached romantically at the moment, rest in God's love today.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Do Short-Term Mission Trips Really Matter?

On a short-term mission trip in
Soweto, South Africa - 2002
In our ministry with Campus Crusade for Christ and The Impact Movement, I have participated in countless numbers of what would be considered short-term mission trips or outreach programs. Whether they be for half a day, a week or two months long, our students and staff actively share the gospel of Christ in word and deed in communities in which they don't reside and, potentially, will never return.

There are some that fault this approach to ministry and claim that it demonstrates more of a tourist mindset than of one who is truly seeking to make a difference in peoples' lives.  And, to some extent, I agree with them.  In most cases, true life change will happen in the context of relationships.  Those that will be most struck by the Christian are those that not only hear it, but see it lived out before their eyes.

However, I'm also convinced that taking the time to share the greatest message ever told with a stranger is not only good, but carries with it the potential to alter eternity.  Don't believe me?  Check out the following story from Michael Oh, a seminary president who recounts an encounter he had while he was a college student. Dr. Oh shares about a time when he was on a spring break missions trip to Daytona Beach with an unnamed Christian organization (my guess is that the group was Campus Crusade) and tells of a young man that he met:
"One day I was paired with a friend Janet (an upperclassman). It was about time to call it a day, and I was ready to slink back into being inconspicuous again after a long day of being stared at and laughed at by the hundreds. I don't remember who it was who suggested that we try just one more time, but I'm guessing that it was Janet.

So we walked the beach and Janet (who is Korean-American like me) says to me, "It would be nice to talk with some Asians." Nodding, I added bravely, "And it would be nice to talk with people who are away from the crowd and by themselves." "If it were two people that would be nice," Janet remarked. "And two guys," I said.

A few moments later we both looked up on the horizon and there by the edge of the water were two Asian guys sitting by themselves. Janet and I looked at each other and took the opportunity that God had given.

We shared the Gospel with two exchange students, Caleb and Henky, from Indonesia studying in Canada. Both were very friendly but also uninterested in the Christian faith, almost hostile to it. One had recently lost thousands of dollars at an Atlantic City casino and was at a loss for what to do.

Despite the spiritual gap, we hit it off relationally and eventually Janet and I followed up with them visiting them in Toronto that summer.

During that visit God opened up Caleb's heart to the Gospel. Life had become tough for him, and he even showed me the roof of his apartment where he almost took his own life. From hopelessness to hope, God rescued Caleb that day.

20 years later I received an email from a man named Caleb from Indonesia with the subject line, "Greetings from an old friend."

He wrote,

I wonder if you still remember me. You shared about Christ to me on the beach of Daytona, FL. Few months after that, you drove to Toronto, Ontario with your friend Janet, with a message from God that He loves me and wants to use me. That's the turning point of my walk with God, the moment that I consider myself born again.

God has done many wonderful things in my life and through my life since then. Praise be to His glory!

Caleb had been invited to represent Indonesia at the 2010 Lausanne Congress in Cape Town and found my name and picture on the Lausanne website.

Today he serves as executive pastor of a church of 10,000 people in Surabaya City, Indonesia."
When we step out in faith to share the message of Christ's love and forgiveness, we do not know what will happen. Most may ignore what we have to say but, sometimes, God uses us to see someone's life change. And when God really gets a hold of someone's heart, you can be sure that other lives will be affected as well.

To take the initiative to share the gospel in a short-term situation may not seem like it will matter much, but it certainly matters to people like Caleb.  When we make ourselves to be used by God, we never know what he might do.  As the late founder of Campus Crusade, Bill Bright, used to say, "Successful witnessing is simply taking the initiative to share the gospel in the power of the Holy Spirit and leaving the results to God."  As Christ's ambassadors, our jobs are to represent Him well to all those we encounter and let Him do the rest.

To read the rest of Michael Oh's story please click here.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

John MacArthur on Family and Ministry

Photo Credit: Leonard John Matthews
In an interview with Tim Challies, Pastor John MacArthur shares his thoughts on the priority of family in the life of a man who is a spiritual leader:
"It is critically important that the pastor give priority to his family. As Paul told Timothy regarding the qualification of an elder, “He must be one who manages his own household well, keeping his children under control with all dignity (but if a man does not know how to manage his own household, how will he take care of the church of God?” So, this is a priority that comes to us directly from the Scriptures.

The most important things a Christian father can do for his children are to love their mother in a Christ-like way (Ephesians 5) and to train them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord (Ephesians 6). And the most important thing he can do for his wife is to pursue Christ, and then to love and lead her out of the overflow of his devotion for the Savior. Thus, the fundamental key for being both a good husband and father is to be a godly man—one who fervently loves the Lord and is shepherding his own heart and mind with the Word of God. And that is intensely practical. To be an effective parent and a model husband, you must be faithful in your walk with Christ. Everything else in life flows out of that. Then your leadership in the home will be marked by an attitude of humble sacrifice and selfless service. As the Spirit uses His Word to sanctify your heart, you will be able to shepherd and care for your family.

There are other important things that fathers must do, of course—such as praying for their children, correcting them with patience and gentleness, instilling within them a love for the church, spending time with them, encouraging them, befriending them, and helping them make wise friendships of their own. But the heart of Christian parenting is being a faithful Christian."
To read the rest of the interview please click here.

Monday, February 07, 2011

Is it Time for Chick-fil-A to Abandon its Christian Identity?

Photo Credit: Link576
Chick-fil-A, the fast food restaurant popular in the southern United States, is currently facing something it is not used to -- controversy. After donating some free food to an organization that is against gay marriage, a number of gay rights groups have publicly condemned the company.  The Atlanta Journal Constitution weighs in on the story:
"We're not anti-anybody," said [Dan] Cathy, son of the company's founder, Truett Cathy. "Our mission is to create raving fans."

Earlier this month, Cathy appeared on a Facebook video to argue that the Chick-fil-A sandwiches and brownies to be provided at a marriage-training event sponsored by the Pennsylvania Family Institute are not an endorsement of the group's politics.

On Saturday, Cathy issued a statement saying that "While my family and I believe in the Biblical definition of marriage, we love and respect anyone who disagrees." Cathy said Chick-fil-A would not champion any political agendas on marriage and family. That is not a change from previous practice, Cathy said -- "just a confirmation."

"We've opted not to get involved in the political debate," he told the AJC. "It's never been our agenda."

But Chick-fil-A finds itself squarely in the political debate. A New York Times story published Sunday noted the conservative religion that is built into Chick-fil-A's corporate ethos have run it against the gay rights movement. Students at some universities have tried to get the chain removed from campuses.

Recently, administrators at the Indiana University South Bend suspended weekly Wednesday sales of Chick-fil-A items at two main dining areas, according to the South Bend Tribune. The administration wanted to review complaints raised by a student group and members of the executive committee of the Academic Senate.

Cathy says Chick-fil-A operates its business on Biblical principles but "is not a Christian company." It's a nuanced distinction, and many customers may miss it."
Chick-fil-A is a unique business. In respect for the Judeo-Christian tradition of Sabbath rest, they are the rare business that closes operations on Sundays so that their employees and customers have the day for focused time with family or to spend time at the house of worship of their choice.  They often play Christian music in their stores and the toys contained within their kids meals often are educational in nature, with a strong moral message.

But the reasons I go to my local Chick-fil-A are not simply because of the Christian foundations that the company was founded on.  I like Chick-fil-A because they have great chicken sandwiches, I can take my children to their play place, their restaurants offer free Wi-Fi, they have free newspapers available and their customer service is unparalleled in the fast food service industry. (For example, when I ask for a refill on my Diet Coke, the response is always, "It would be my pleasure.")

As a Christian, I seek to support businesses that reflect my values and the values that I wish to instill in my children.  I choose not to support companies that promote other value systems that I don't agree with.  And make no mistake about it. Every business promotes some kind of values.  The question is which values does it support and will I support those values with my dollar?

Unlike some of my fellow Christian brothers and sisters, I do not have a problem with gay rights groups boycotting or discouraging others from buying their food at Chick-fil-A.  I happen to disagree with them but I support their right in an American society to do so.  As some of the leaders when it comes to boycotts and organizing campaigns against companies that send a message contrary to what we think is appropriate, Christians should not be surprised when others do the same. If they feel like a business is actively treating them unfairly, they should boycott them.

To my understanding, though, Chick-fil-A does not discriminate against gay and lesbian customers or have some sort of policy against gay employees (which I would not support).  They simply gave some food to a local organization that was holding a local event (as do many restaurants throughout the country). For sure, if Chick-fil-A was in the business of selling Jesus they would have had to shut their doors a long time ago since there is no Jesus combo meal on the menu.  But, as it is, they're in the business of selling chicken sandwiches and they do a wonderful job.

I, for one, hope that Chick-Fil-A continues to do what it does. I hope that they continue to support a variety of local charities, whether those organizations are Christian in nature or not. In addition, their continued refusal to be open on Sundays defies conventional wisdom yet they've still been able to run a profitable business by being open just six days out of the week.  Their "Closed on Sundays" policy declares that there are more important things than just making money and that is something that is worth supporting.

If none of that convinces you to support Chick-fil-A, perhaps Tim Hawkins will.  Please click here if the video player does not show up.

Friday, February 04, 2011

Census Shows Ethnic Minorities on the Rise

Photo Credit: Office of Governor Patrick
According to initial figures from the recent U.S. census, the number of American ethnic minorities continues to rise. These population gains will add to the political clout for ethnic groups, most especially Hispanics, currently underrepresented in government.

"U.S. racial minorities accounted for roughly 85 percent of the nation's population growth over the last decade — one of the largest shares ever — with Hispanics accounting for much of the gain in many of the states picking up new House seats.

Preliminary census estimates also suggest the number of multiracial Americans jumped roughly 20 percent since 2000, to over 5 million.

The findings, based on fresh government survey data, offer a glimpse into 2010 census results that are being released on a state-by-state basis beginning this week. New Jersey, Mississippi, Virginia and Louisiana are the first to receive the census redistricting data, which will be used in the often contentious process of redrawing political districts based on population and racial makeup.

Four of the eight states gaining House seats owe roughly half or more of their population gains over the last decade to Hispanics. They include Texas, which picks up four seats; Florida, which will add two seats; and Arizona and Nevada, picking up one seat apiece.

In Georgia and Washington state, which also gain one seat each, Hispanics combined with other minority groups accounted for a majority of their growth since 2000.

Among states losing House seats, Louisiana and New Jersey each would have posted a net population loss, and Michigan would have sustained bigger declines, if it hadn't been for Hispanic growth. Latinos also made up roughly 60 percent or more of the growth in New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Illinois, Iowa and Massachusetts — which each lose a seat — raising questions as to whether remaining districts in those states will need to accommodate emerging Hispanic voting blocs.

Broken down by voting age, minorities accounted for roughly 70 percent of U.S. growth in the 18-and-older population since 2000, and Hispanics made up about 40 percent. Hispanics also represented more than half the growth share of the voting-age population in Texas and California.

"The growth of the Hispanic community is one of the stories that will be written from the 2010 census," Census director Robert Groves said Wednesday, previewing major demographic trends, including the movement of many minorities from city to suburb. "We should see a big difference from 2000 to 2010."

The preliminary demographic numbers are based on the Census Bureau's Current Population Survey as of March 2010, as well as comparisons of the 2000 census with 2009 demographic estimates and the 2009 American Community Survey, which samples 3 million U.S. households. According to those figures, minorities represented between 81 percent and 89 percent of the U.S. population growth since 2000, higher than the official 80 percent share in 2000.

The minority growth share in 2010 is the largest in recent memory, with only the influx of European minority immigrants such as Italians, Poles and Jews in the late 1800s possibly rivaling it in scope, said William H. Frey, a demographer at Brookings Institution who analyzed the census data."
To read the rest of the article click here.

(h/t to

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

What Americans Give to Churches, Charities & Foreign Missions

Photo Credit: borman818
Here are some interesting statistics from Christianity Today regarding giving patterns of Americans as it pertains to charities, foreign missions and churches:
"Churches and other explicitly religious organizations are by far the largest recipients of Americans' charitable donations. But church members' giving is decreasing in the recession, especially as a percentage of income. The amount of church-based giving that goes to missions is also decreasing significantly. From 1916-1927, about 7.9% of church contributions went to foreign missions; today it's 2.1%. (From Empty Tomb, Inc.)

Total charitable giving in the U.S. (unadjusted for population or income) dropped by about 3.6% in 2009, though individual giving stayed steady from 2008. (From Giving USA)"

  • 1968 - The average percentage of income given to churches was 3.11%
  • 1985 - The average percentage of income given to churches was 2.59%
  • 2008 - The average percentage of income given to churches was 2.43%
Overseas Missions Giving
How much of each selected denomination's church dollar goes to international ministries? (From Empty Tomb, Inc.)
  • 11 cents - Christian Missionary & Alliance
  • 6 cents - Church of the Nazarene; General Association of General Baptists
  • 4 cents - Seventh Day Adventists - North America; The Wesleyan Church, The Presbyterian Church in America
  • 2 cents - Southern Baptist Convention; The United Methodist Church
  • 1 cent - Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod; Christian Church (Disciples of Christ); Evangelical Lutheran Church in America; Presbyterian Church (USA); The Episcopal Church
Beyond Church Giving
Americans gave 303.75 billion in 2009. Three quarters of it came from individuals. Here's where the money went (From The Chronicle of Philanthropy):
  • Religion (33%)
  • Education (13%)
  • Gifts to Grant Making Foundations (10%)
  • Unallocated Giving (10%)
  • Human Services (9%)
  • Public-Society Benefit (8%)
  • Health (7%)
  • Arts, Culture & Humanities (4%)
  • International Affairs (3%)
  • Environment/Animals (2%)
  • Foundation Grants to Individuals (1%)
As these numbers can attest, Americans give billions each year to their local churches, favorite charities and other worthy causes. However, the richer we have become as a nation, we've given a smaller percentage of our income to that which has eternal significance.  Perhaps an appropriate question to ask ourselves is not how much we give but how much do we keep?