Thursday, December 31, 2009

Figuring Out Your Favorite Movies

Would you be able to share your all-time favorite movie if someone asked you to? What about your top 20? When you've seen hundreds, if not thousands of movies over the course of a lifetime, it can be challenging to to come up with a list of favorites when put on the spot., a website that I got introduced to by Whitney over at Pop Candy, helps you rank your top movies through a simple match-up formula.

It goes like this... Flickchart offers two movies and you choose which one you like better. If you haven't seen one or both of the movies, you click through to the next option. The matchups go quickly and, after going through a number of selections, you'll likely find that the list that has been generated for you is pretty close to what you would have chosen yourself. If a movie that is one of your favorites doesn't come up as a option, just search for it and you can then begin to rank it against those you've already selected.

This was a fun diversion for me during a holiday break. You can try it out here. According to Flickchart, here is my top 20:

1. Jerry Maguire
2. Memento
3. Rocky
4. The Godfather
5. Hoosiers
6. The Shawshank Redemption
7. Spider-Man 2
8. Notting Hill
9. Do the Right Thing
10. Forrest Gump
11. The Dark Knight
12. The Truman Show
13. Return of the Jedi
14. A Few Good Men
15. The Green Mile
16. Coming to America
17. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
18. Saving Private Ryan
19. Shrek
20. The Butterfly Effect

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Reading Through the Bible in a Year

With the dawn of other calendar year just hours away, many of us are considering our New Year's Resolutions and how we can better ourselves in the year 2010. Along with the common goals related to weight loss, kicking bad habits, exercise, etc., one goal that some Christians strive for is to actually read through the whole Bible in a year.

As the most widely read and distributed book of all time, the Bible contains all the elements of any popular modern-day book. There is sex, greed, corruption, love, heroism, evil, good and an overarching theme that is better than anything else ever written. I've heard it said that although there are numerous characters and a large chunk of time that passes between beginning and end, there is one common theme of the Bible: It is of God's perfect creation, our rebellion against Him and His plan to redeem us.

As a committed Christian, I read the Bible for guidance, direction, wisdom and encouragement in my faith. I also read it to learn more about the character of the God I serve and those that have gone before me in a shared faith. It was written by a few dozen authors, over several hundred centuries and on multiple continents. Quite simply, it is the best work of literature that I have ever read.

For the past decade I have read through the Bible each year. I take at least 15-20 minutes each and every day to spend time in the Holy Scriptures. Even though it is the same story and I know how it begins and ends, I learn new things each year. It changes me and makes me a better person when I apply what I read and learn.

There are a plethora of reading plans on how to read through the Bible in a year and they're all good. The plan that I use is found at The One Year Bible Online and is very simple. There is a portion from the Old Testament, the New Testament, the Psalms and Proverbs for each day and it takes less than the time it takes to watch a sitcom.

Whether you are a Christian seeking to grow in your faith or a seeker that is wanting to learn more about the Scriptures, there are few things that would be as worth your while as spending a quarter of an hour each day to read through the most popular book ever written. It was written thousands of years ago but it is powerful. As the writer of the book of Hebrews said,
"For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart."
Why don't you try to read through the Bible this year? I promise you you won't regret it.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

The "Merry Christmas" Wars Heat Up

Over the past several years there has been a battle playing out in the public eye between those that want to emphasize Christmas during the end-of-the-year holiday season and others that want to move away from any references to Christmas. has a good article which can be found here which summarizes some of the political battles that are forming around the Christmas holiday.

For those of us that get irritated when a retailer wishes us a "Happy Holidays" as opposed to a "Merry Christmas", I do think that we can overact on this point. For example, we are in the midst of a season that has several holidays that most American Christians celebrate -- Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's Day. So if someone is wishing someone else Happy Holidays, they may not be seeking to exclude Christmas but are simply recognizing the other holidays that fall in this time of year.

Of course, there are some that have moved away from any mention of Christmas as to not offend those that don't celebrate the holidays (e.g. Jews, Muslims, atheists, etc.) and make attempts to include other holidays like Hanukkah or Kwanzaa that are also observed this time of year. I have no problem with other holidays being recognized for those that celebrate them, but can't it also be okay to recognize Christmas since it is this holiday that the vast majority of Americans celebrate?

Unfortunately, the original meaning behind Christmas (which literally means Christ's Mass or "the celebration of Christ") has been lost in many respects. For the sake of argument, let's say that all retailers go back to wishing everyone a Merry Christmas. Will that cause us to celebrate Christ more? Or does it just further confuse American consumerism with the celebration of the savior of the world?

It doesn't take the recognition of non-Christian holidays to cause us to miss the point of the Christmas holiday. The presents and Santa and trees and cookies are all fine but the holiday is really about Jesus. I liken a Christmas celebration without including Christ to a wedding without a bride. You may get a good meal and some nice presents out of it, but you're kind of missing the point of having the celebration in the first place.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Giving Patterns of Americans

We are in the throes of the Christmas season and for many Americans that means an increase in their charitable giving. I can attest that the donors to our ministry give more to us at the end of the year than at any other time. In fact our donations can be anywhere from 20-50% more in December than at any other month of the year.

As one that has raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for our non-profit charity over the years, I am always interested to learn more about the giving patterns of Americans. Justin Taylor recently shared some interesting facts from concerning the charitable giving of Americans.

Here are some statistics that stood out to me:
1. Americans are #1 in charitable giving in the world. It would take 3 French OR 7 Germans OR 14 Italians to equal the charitable donations of 1 American.

2. Americans give over 300 Billion each year to charities. However, we give over 400 Billion to Walmart.

3. There are close to 1 million public charities in the U.S.

4. The charity with the largest amount of revenue is Lutheran Services in America. They draw in over 16 billion a year.

5. The average American family gives about $2,000/year to charities.

6. Those who earn less than $20,000/year are twice as charitable (as a % of income) as those who earn over $100,000 (even though they donate 1/4 as much). The most common reason upper income people don't give to charity? They say they can't afford it.

7. Where does our giving go?
  • 35% - Religion
  • 13% - Education
  • 11% - Foundations
  • 9% - Human Services
  • 8% - Public Society Benefit
  • 7% - Health
  • 17% - Other
8. Conservatives are more likely to give than liberals and are twice as likely to attend religious worship services. Religious people even give more to secular causes than non-religious people do.
To learn more about the charities you give to, visit the Better Business Bureau or Charity Navigator.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Thoughts on Tiger Woods

In the past couple of weeks on at least two different occasions I sat down to write about Tiger Woods and all that has been going on since that fateful car accident Thanksgiving weekend. But in both instances, I couldn't formulate what I wanted to say and just deleted the post.

I'm not sure what I think or how I feel about this whole mess. On one hand I can't fathom how someone with so much would be so reckless in his personal life. On the other hand, I feel sorry for a guy that is facing public scrutiny in a way that only few can even begin to relate to.

Although Tiger Woods is an icon that has transcended his sport, he is also just a man with the same frailties and weaknesses that you and I possess. As more and more details have emerged during this ordeal, I truly wonder what is going through Tiger's head as he ponders his next steps and what his life is going to look like once he decides to emerge from his Windermere mansion.

On an encouraging note, I am pleased to hear that he is taking an indefinite leave from golf in order to work on his marriage and get his personal life in order. There has been much damage done to his marriage, his reputation and his marketability. In order to come out of this whole thing a better person, he needs to examine why he thought that running into the arms of women that weren't his wife would bring him life and satisfaction.

As people with a sin nature each of us are prone to run to things that won't ultimately bring us life. It could be sex. Or it could be food or alcohol or drugs or television or any other number of things that can't take the place of God. One of the pastors at my church, Dave Abney, has quoted G.K. Chesterton as saying,
"Every man who knocks on the door of a brothel is looking for God"
I wonder if Tiger did the things he did was because he needed an escape from the expectation that he needed to be perfect? It's a realization that we must all come to that we are imperfect people that live in an imperfect world. Tiger's a sinner just like I'm a sinner. I hope that somebody in his life shares with him that there is One who loves him in his imperfections and would love to help him experience true life. Perhaps you've done some pretty bad stuff, too, and realize you need some help. This might be a good first step.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Say Thanks to a Soldier

Thousands of American servicemen and women are currently overseas and are unable to spend the holidays with their families. Xerox is helping you to send a little piece of encouragement from home. Let's Say Thanks is a program where you can visit a website, choose a greeting card and Xerox will print and send it to a solider currently deployed overseas.

It only takes a minute and can be a small way to let a solider know that they are not forgotten and that their bravery is valued. Here's one thank you for a solider that benefited from the program:
"I wanted to contact you to say thanks for this outstanding effort to make our Military personnel feel a touch of home wherever they are. I have been deployed several times to various parts of the world. No matter what is going on around us, when we get encouraging words from home it seems to make a difference that is beyond description. Something as simple as words. Something as common as a crayon drawing. Something as appreciative as Let's Say Thanks. These things can mean the world when you are a world away."

- A Soldier
Please take a moment to visit today.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

What are the Top Religion Stories of 2009?

Time Magazine recently compiled its suggestions for the top ten religion stories for this past year, 2009. Here they are:

1. Secularism or Bust - the growing anti-religion sentiment that is sweeping across Europe.

2. What Reformation? - the Catholic Church's acceptance of Anglicans who are dissatisfied with the the direction of their own church.

3. Keeping the Faith-Based - President Obama's expansion of the White House faith-based office initiated by President George W. Bush.

4. Faith Healing Turns Fatal - the death of a child whose parent's opted for prayer instead of traditional medical treatment for their sick daughter.

5. Going to the Chapel - a popular Catholic priest is removed from his Diocese after pictures of him with a woman on the beach surface.

6. Dr. Dobson Has Left the Building - Dr. James Dobson steps down as the leader of Focus on the Family.

7. Obama's Notre Dame Touchdown - Pro-choice President Obama offers a commencement speech at the pro-life Catholic institution.

8. Americans Go Church Shopping - more and more Americans change churches, change faiths or give up on organized religion altogether.

9. Banning the Baha'i - several leaders of the Baha'i faith are held in prison in Iran.

10. Religious Runaway - a teenage Muslim girl converts to Christianity and runs away from home because she says she fears for her life.

Saturday, December 05, 2009

Our Airport Adventure

Lori and I spent much of this past week in southern California at some meetings with about fifteen other leaders within Campus Crusade. Our housing was nice and our meetings took place in a rental property right off the Pacific ocean. We moved forward on important ministry initiatives, had quality time with good friends and ate some tasty food. Although we had a great time during the week, our scheduled departure at the airport didn't go as smoothly.

After returning the rental car, we got on the shuttle to the airport. We eventually arrived at the airport, grabbed our bags that the shuttle driver had insisted on loading onto the shuttle and went to the kiosks inside to check-in for our flights. As I began to check us in, Lori said, "This isn't my bag." What? "This isn't my suitcase! My purse is in my suitcase!" We realized that someone that had gotten off the shuttle before us must have taken our suitcase accidentally. This was not good.

You see, my parents had come down to visit us in Florida and were watching the kids while we were gone. But their flight back to Detroit was leaving the next morning and we had to get back to Florida on our scheduled flight. Without Lori's purse that would be a little difficult.

After a few moments of panic, we planned our strategy and figured out a plan to try to get our suitcase back. We called the rental car company and explained what happened. The suitcase that was in our possession did have a name and address (although no phone number) and we asked the rental company to search for that person's reservation and see if they had a mobile phone number listed. Todd, the helpful Enterprise agent, was able to locate their number but got no answer when he called. He left a message for them with my information. Lori and I took a moment to pray for our attitudes and that we would be able to find our suitcase.

Time was of the essence! If they got on their plane with our suitcase, then we would be S.O.L. -- that's right...straight outta luck :) I suggested we try to page them in the airport and Todd thought that was a great idea. Shortly after locating a courtesy phone to page them, we heard over the loudspeakers, "Lori Crocker, please report to the Southwest security gate." We were on our way.

While hurrying to the other terminal, I received a call from the owner of the suitcase in our possession. "Dude!" he said. "That shuttle driver switched our suitcases!" We figured out what had happened and he shared that he and his wife had already gone through security when they realized that they had our suitcase and not their own. He alerted a security agent who suggested a meeting point outside the entrance to security. We found each other in the mass of people and made the exchange.

We hoofed it back to our terminal and finally went through our security checkpoint. Although we didn't have much time before making our flight, Lori and I were able to make it on the plane and board as scheduled. Thankfully we made it home in time and my parents returned back home as planned. As it turns out, this was just another funny story to tell for this frequent traveler. Fortunately for us it has a happy ending.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

My Favorite Christmas Albums

In conjunction with the spirit of the season, our family will soon be getting out our box of Christmas CD's and listening to them for the next few weeks. In case you're looking for some new holiday music, here are my top favorite six Christmas albums. They are listed here in descending order, as follows:

6. Nat King Cole - Christmas Favorites
Possessing one of the smoothest and richest voices of all-time, Cole put together a great collection of traditional Christmas carols. Highlights include his well-known version of The Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire) and my favorite version of my favorite Christmas song, O Holy Night.

5. Celine Dion - These are Special Times
Arguably one of the greatest singers of our age, Dion certainly gives you your money's worth on this 16-track disc that runs close to an hour and ten minutes. Highlights include The Prayer (a duet with Andrea Bocelli) and the John Lennon tune, Happy Christmas (War is Over).

4. Kirk Franklin & The Family - Christmas
Kirk is probably my favorite gospel singer and whether he is singing with The Family, God's Property, Nu Nation (or any of his other collaborations), his original writing and direction stands out. Highlights on this 1995 disc include There's No Christmas Without You , the funky Jesus is the Reason for the Season and one of his greatest songs ever, the standout track Now Behold The Lamb.

3. Amy Grant - Home for Christmas
Amy must really like Christmas since she's made three different albums focused on this holiday and this one is my favorite. She demonstrates on this record why she is the greatest selling Contemporary Christian Music artist of all-time. Highlights include I'll Be Home For Christmas, The Night Before Christmas, and the powerful Breath of Heaven (Mary's Song.)

2. Steven Curtis Chapman - The Music of Christmas
Steven is far and away my favorite singer. We even thought about naming one of our boys "Steven Curtis Crocker," but we resisted that temptation. This album is chock full of great traditional and original songs. Standout songs include This Baby, Christmas is All in the Heart (with CeCe Winans), and the theologically rich Our God is With Us.

1. The Carpenters - Christmas Portrait
It is simply not Christmas for me without listening to this 1978 album. This is THE Christmas album that my family listened to while I was growing up. Whether while we were putting up the tree, decorating the house, or relaxing in front of our fake fireplace/record & 8-track player, mini-bar thingy (my parents and sister know what I'm talking about), Karen Carpenter's beautiful voice and the splendid musical stylings of Richard was playing in the background. Listening to this CD still brings back a flood of good memories each year. Favorite songs include Sleigh Ride, Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas, and Karen's stunning rendition of Ave Maria.

So those are my favorite Christmas albums. What are yours?

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Christians Sign The Manhattan Declaration

A number of Christian leaders, coming from Evangelical, Catholic and Orthodox traditions, have issued The Manhattan Declaration, a statement affirming convictions regarding the sanctity of life, the traditional institution of marriage and the value of religious liberty. First signed by 125 clergy and leaders of various ministries, there are now over 19,000 signers (as of this writing).

Taken from the website for the declaration, the following statement summarizes its purpose:
"Christians, when they have lived up to the highest ideals of their faith, have defended the weak and vulnerable and worked tirelessly to protect and strengthen vital institutions of civil society, beginning with the family.

We are Orthodox, Catholic, and evangelical Christians who have united at this hour to reaffirm fundamental truths about justice and the common good, and to call upon our fellow citizens, believers and non-believers alike, to join us in defending them. These truths are:

1. The sanctity of human life.
2. The dignity of marriage as the conjugal union of husband and wife.
3. The rights of conscience and religious liberty.

Inasmuch as these truths are foundational to human dignity and the well-being of society, they are inviolable and non-negotiable. Because they are increasingly under assault from powerful forces in our culture, we are compelled today to speak out forcefully in their defense, and to commit ourselves to honoring them fully no matter what pressures are brought upon us and our institutions to abandon or compromise them. We make this commitment not as partisans of any political group but as followers of Jesus Christ, the crucified and risen Lord, who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life."
If you would like to read the complete declaration click here. To sign it, click here.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Abortion & Woman of Color

Taken from Heartbeat International, here are some disturbing facts about abortion in America and how it disportionately affects women of color:
"Presently, America’s pregnancy help centers are set up in predominantly white, suburban, and small-town communities. This reflects the demographics of our current movement. But long ago, Planned Parenthood explicitly identified its profit centers: "young women, low-income women, and women of color" (Planned Parenthood Plan of Action, 1997). Studies show that 62.5% of Planned Parenthood facilities are located in cities where Blacks represent a higher percentage of the population compared to the overall population of the state. (

Black women, who represent 12% of the female population, suffer 36% of all abortions. Latina women represent 13% of the female population but suffer another 20% of all abortions. Together, they suffer 56% of all abortions yet they represent only 25% of our nation’s population.

Rev. Clenard Childress, Northeast Region President of the Life Education And Resource Network (L.E.A.R.N.), explains the numbers: "The abortion industry kills as many Black people every four days as the Klan killed in 150 years. Since 1973, legal abortion has killed more Blacks than AIDS, cancer, diabetes, heart disease and violent crime combined."
You can read the complete Lifelines article here. Thanks to John Piper for the link to the article.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

A Teacher Who Cares

In this modern age of technology, many of us have grown accustomed to sending a birthday greeting to our friends and family by posting a short note on their Facebook Wall. It's quick and simple and let's others know that you're thinking of them on their special day.

But what if we were to send an actual card with a handwritten note to all those friends? What if it was over 2,500 people that we did this for every year?

I was encouraged by this story of Dan Stroup, a teacher at a small Christian school in Indianapolis, who sends a birthday card every year to each student he's ever had. As a role model for so many kids that are looking for love and admiration, Stroup's example demonstrates a simple, yet profound, way to show God's love to those students he's had over the years.

You can read the complete story here.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Hope For Young African American Males

I am currently in Hampton, Virginia with a number of other Campus Crusade staff members as we seek to help develop spiritual movements on the campuses and communities of this region. After spending the morning at Hampton University, a prominent HBCU in southeastern Virginia, several of us spent the afternoon at a local Boys & Girls Club.

If you are not familiar with them, Boys & Girls Clubs provide a safe place for kids to do school work, participate in recreational activities and receive mentoring from caring adults. I spent a few hours with a couple dozen young African American boys and helped some of them with their homework, played some games and talked a little about life.

As I looked upon these young, intelligent, energetic kids, I couldn't help but think what life would be like for them as they entered into their teen years and into adulthood. Even as I was with them I prayed silently that God would steer them from the temptations they were likely to face, protect them from a justice system that often targets them and to provide positive, godly role models in their lives.

I thought back to a post that I wrote about a couple years ago about an article by Phil Jackson, a minister in Chicago who works with at-risk youth, on the current state of young black males in the United States. He states some of the sobering realities facing black boys but offers tangible, positive solutions. You can read his article here.

I spent some time today with Jalen, a precocious third grader who likes to play football and spend time with his friends. I had seen him being a little too aggressive with some of the other kids and sat down next to him to have a conversation. As we began to talk, he immediately started to settle down. I asked him about his interests, about his family life and his dreams for the future.

I learned that his mom had him when she was 15 and that his dad really wasn't part of his life. Which was fine with Jalen because his dad has beaten him. His mom works two jobs and is taking online classes to provide for him and he spends several hours a day at the Boys & Girls Club since there is no one at home to watch him while his mom's at work.

I affirmed how much his mom cares about him since she works so hard to take care of him and even let him know how much God loves him. He began to ask me about my family and my kids and I encouraged him as a reader and in his plans to go to college. He begged me to play several games of Foosball and pool with him and we had a fun time together. I'm glad that there are some men that spend some time with him after school each day and I hope that he is able to realize his potential. So many bright young kids get picked off by the streets and I hope Jalen isn't one of them.

Saturday, November 07, 2009

What's Your Favorite Hot Dog?

I took a trip this past week to spend a couple days with our Impact staff in Indianapolis. On the flight up, I found my self engrossed in a magazine article about a writer's experience sampling hot dogs throughout Chicago in order to find the Windy City's best dog. Even though I've been to Chicago a number of times, I've never actually had what is called a "Chicago-style" hot dog -- a dog topped with mustard, onions, sweet pickle relish, a dill pickle spear, tomato slices, peppers, celery salt and poppy seed bun.

As a native Michigander, I am most familiar with the Coney Island hot dog -- a dog with a steamed bun and topped with a beanless chili sauce, mustard, and chopped onions. Coney Islands are very popular in the Detroit area and my favorite location is the one downtown of my hometown, Port Huron. I have to visit Coney Island whenever I get back home! Anybody can have the standard hot dog with ketchup and mustard but I like mine to have more than the everyday toppings.

After living in the southern part of the U.S. for several years, I have been introduced to another version of the hot dog, the Carolina slaw dog. This is simply a hot dog that is topped with a creamy cole slaw. I've heard that the slaw dog can also contain chili and/or mustard with it, but I've only had it with just the cole slaw and it is tasty.

Back to the Chicago-style dog... After wrapping up my time in Indy, I arrived to the airport and walked to my gate. I only had about forty minutes before boarding my flight but I hadn't had dinner yet so I was looking for something quick to get. And, wouldn't you know it, right by gate was a hot dog joint specializing in Chicago-style dogs! I ordered one and loved it. It wasn't able to top Coney Island in my book, but it definitely was good.

I'm interested to know, what is your favorite style of hot dog? In your opinion, which restaurant serves the best?

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Christian Publishing & Asian Stereotypes

I recently learned of a significant online dialogue that is going on surrounding the release of a new book, Deadly Viper Character Assassin: A Kung Fu Survival Guide for Life and Leadership by Mike Foster and Jud Wilhite. The book may seem harmless enough at first glance, but a large amount of people are expressing their displeasure with the use of Asian culture as a metaphor for the lessons the authors are trying to teach.

The book is written by evangelical Christian authors and is distributed by Zondervan, a giant in the world of Christian publishing. I need to say on the outset that I have not read the book nor do I know the authors personally. I am not attempting to judge motives or anyone's heart. But after reading a little online about the reaction to this book, it is obvious that a number of people, especially Asian Americans, have taken personal offense to the insensitivity to Asian cultures contained within the book and the marketing of the product.

Professor Soong-Chan Rah has written several times about this and has included some of his interactions with the authors. This post describes his thoughts in the most detail. I encourage you to also check out this video that was posted to market the book to potential buyers. Take some time to read the post, watch the video and read the comments for both. For those of us that are white, it is easy for us to dismiss concerns over these types of things as overreactions by people looking for racism under every rock.

But in reading the comments you'll see the hurt and pain that this insensitivity to culture and stereotyping causes for many Asians and Asian Americans. Regardless of the author's intent, a lot of people have been offended by this. You don't have to be a racist to be naive and unaware. Unfortunately, this is not the first time a Christian publisher has demonstrated insensitivity to Asians. A handful of years ago, LifeWay Christian Resources took a lot of heat for producing a Vacation Bible School curriculum that also employed stereotypical Asian themes.

In the case of Deadly Viper Character Assassin, I hope the integrity and character the authors have written of will be displayed in how they respond to this situation.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Halloween Fun 2009

Here I am with my friends the Lion, Obi-Wan Kenobi, Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz and a Tampa Bay Buccaneers football player.

This is the Darth Vader pumpkin I carved for the boys this year. After several years of attempting to create unique pumpkin carvings, I'm finally starting to learn some tricks.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Steve Harvey's Tearful Admission

For those of us that are normal average people, it can be hard for us to relate to the rich and famous. It is easy for us to look upon celebrities as if they are not human or don't deal with the same kind of emotions that we deal with. But nothing could be farther from the truth. In fact, the famous deal with the same kinds of fears, insecurities, worries, sins and heartache that the rest of us do.

A recent video posted to YouTube demonstrates this reality. Steve Harvey, a well-known comedian and actor, was being interviewed on the Christian television station TBN by gospel singer, Donnie McClurkin. In a moment of vulnerability, Harvey shared how difficult it is as a celebrity to find someone to share about his life with who can truly understand what he's going through. He commented on the criticism that celebrities receive from those that don't know them and how it feels when people have misinterpreted what he's said.

He goes on to observe that even though he is a professing Christian, many of those that speak negatively about him are people that also consider themselves Christians. In an age where any of us can express our opinions for the world to see, Steve Harvey's tears remind us that the people we talk about are real people with real feelings. Although I think there is a place to express concern if there are Christians who are living lives inconsistent with their faith (see I Corinthians 5), we need to remember only God can judge the true motives and intentions of others. And we do need to question whether our criticisms are truly for the benefit of that person... or so we can feel better about ourselves.

For a glimpse into the heart of a celebrity, check on the video below. If the video player doesn't show up, please click here.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

The Global Spread of Christianity

At the CCDA conference that I attended last week, I was riveted as Dr. Soong-Chan Rah shared about how the global spread of Christianity is affecting the world today. Dr. John Piper has cited some of these current realities in his article, "The Legacy of Antioch." Piper shares the following:
- At the beginning of the twentieth century, about 71 percent of professing Christians in the world lived in Europe. By the end of the twentieth century, that number had shrunk to 28 percent. 43 percent of the Christians now lived in Latin America and Africa.

- In 1900, Africa had 10 million Christians, which was about 10 percent of the population. By 2000, the number of Christians was 360 million, about half the population of the continent. This is probably the largest shift in religious affiliation that has ever occurred, anywhere.

- There are 17 million baptized members of the Anglican church in Nigeria, compared with 2.8 million in the United States.

- This past Sunday more Anglicans attended church in each of Kenya, South Africa, Tanzania, and Uganda than did Anglicans in Britain and Canada and Episcopalians in the United States combined.

- The number of practicing Christians in China is approaching the number in the United States.

- Last Sunday . . . more Christian believers attended church in China than in all of so-called ‘Christian Europe.’

- Kenya has more people in Christian churches on Sunday than Canada.

- More believers worship together in Nagaland than in Norway.

- More Christian workers from Brazil are active in cross cultural ministry outside their homelands than from Britain or from Canada. In other words, the churches of the Global South are increasingly sending churches.

- Last Sunday more Presbyterians were in church in Ghana than in Scotland.

- This past week in Great Britain, at least fifteen thousand Christian foreign missionaries were hard at work evangelizing the locals. Most of these missionaries are from Africa and Asia.
These facts demonstrate the significant role that people from South America, Africa and Asia are playing in the spread of the Christian faith. It gets me excited to think about the unique role that students from Bridges, Destino, Epic, Impact, Korea Campus Crusade and Nations can play in helping to fulfill the Great Commission.

Monday, October 26, 2009

No Habla Espanol!

A hotel owner in New Mexico got himself into a heap of controversy after he required his Spanish-speaking employees to speak only English in his presence and to change their names to more Anglo sounding versions. Larry Whitten, a man with decades of experience in the hotel business, said he was worried that his Hispanic employees would talk negatively about him in Spanish while in his presence. Whitten explained that he asked the employees to change their names so it would be easier for guests to understand them.

The employees were understandably angry about these demands, particularly the request to change their names. After a number of the workers refused to Whitten's requests, he fired them. According to at least one of the fired employees felt the requests struck to the core of his identity:
"Martin Gutierrez, another fired employee, says he felt disrespected when he was told to use the unaccented Martin as his name. He says he told Whitten that Spanish was spoken in New Mexico before English. "He told me he didn't care what I thought because this was his business," Gutierrez says. "I don't have to change my name and language or heritage," he says. "I'm professional the way I am."
Is this simply a case of an owner making a simple requirement of his employees or is it something more? If Whitten had requested that his Spanish-speaking employees seek to speak English to English-speaking guests, then I don't think his request would have been unreasonable. But because he forbid them to speak their heart language, whether they were interacting with guests or not, demonstrates a certain xenophobia towards the employees.

Furthermore, the requirement to change their names demonstrates an insensitivity to the employees as individuals and humans. In a country that has no official language, it might have made sense for Whitten to take a different approach. What if after buying the hotel and learning of the rich Hispanic culture of the community of Taos, New Mexico, he met with his employees and asked them to help him learn Spanish so that he could interact with the Spanish speakers of that community? Wouldn't that make good business sense and likely would have endeared him to his employees?

With all trends indicating a growing number of Spanish speakers in the U.S., businesses in predominately Hispanic communities would do well to respect and value the culture of people coming from those communities. In a diverse country such as ours, pursuing unity within our diversity only makes sense.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Christian Persecution in Our Times

A couple of months ago I wrote about the case of Rifqa Bary, a young girl who converted from Islam to Christianity who fled to central Florida from her Ohio home because she said she feared for her life. I don't know whether Rifqa's concerns are genuine or whether she was simply trying to exert her independence.

But I do know that the reality of Christians being persecuted for their faith is very much an issue for today. According to most research, there are close to 500 Christians killed each day because of their faith. Unknown to most American Christians, our brothers and sisters in Christ in many parts of the world face life or death consequences for professing their faith in the Nazarene carpenter.

Our church is currently going through the book of Acts and this morning we looked at the story of St. Stephen, the first martyr in the early church. Here are some of my notes and thoughts on this morning's message from our pastor, Mike Tilley, on the 7th chapter of Acts:

-- Unlike the suicidal terrorist bombers of the modern day who kill others and themselves because of what they believe to be righteous reasons, Stephen calmly gave his life instead of recanting his faith. Following the example of Jesus, he left his life in the Father's hand.

-- As American Christians, we may not have our lives immediately threatened because of our faith but the threat to us is more subtle. Like the frog and the kettle, we can gradually fall away from our devotion to Christ as we allow the cares of this world to take the forefront of our lives.

-- Our narcissism may not be that we make our own truth but that we live for our own glory. We become much more concerned with what we want than what God wants.

-- Our consumerism can mean that Jesus becomes just one of many things that we seek to satisfy our needs. He is not our "all in all" but a side item that we can take or leave if things become too uncomfortable.

-- Deitrich Bonhoeffer, the famed German theologian who was martyred at the hand of the Nazis, said, "When Christ calls a man, He bids him come and die." Our allegiance to Christ may not mean that we have to give our physical lives for His sake, but it may. The question is whether we will follow Jesus with our whole lives or only follow Him when it is convenient?

November 8th is known as the International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church. The Voice of the Martyrs explains this day:
"Begun in 1996, IDOP is a day for intercessory prayer and citizen action on behalf of persecuted Christian communities worldwide.

“As our staff meets with persecuted Christians around the world, their first request is that we pray for them,” says Todd Nettleton, Director of Media Development for The Voice of the Martyrs - USA. “IDOP is a day when the collective Body of Christ joins together to answer their request.”

Some churches devote the entire day to persecuted Christians, while others hold a special prayer time during their regular services. It is estimated that more than 100,000 churches have taken part in IDOP activities since 1996, and churches in more than 130 countries have participated.

"Our persecuted family is not asking us to pray that the persecution will stop," says Nettleton. "They’re asking us to pray they will remain faithful to Christ in spite of the persecution and pressure they face."

The Voice of the Martyrs has developed a special IDOP Church Resource kit, including a four-minute video presentation, that encourages church congregations to pray and that provides ideas about practical ways to help persecuted Christians. Visit for more information on the resource kit, as well as downloadable resources to help your church pray effectively.

"This is an important day in the church calendar," says Nettleton. "But we don’t want it to be something a church crosses off their list and doesn’t think about for 12 more months. Our hope is that this one day of prayer leads to 364 more days of prayer and action on behalf of our persecuted brothers and sisters."
Jesus told us that whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for Jesus's sake and for the gospel will save it. Perhaps you could ask your pastor how your church might recognize this day. Our prayers, awareness, giving and helping all make a difference in the lives of those who follow Jesus throughout the world.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Thoughts on the CCDA Conference

I had the privilege this past week of attending the annual national conference for the Christian Community Development Association (CCDA) in Cincinnati. CCDA, which was founded twenty years ago by John Perkins, is a coalition of hundreds of churches and thousands of Christians that are committed to showing Christ's love in some of the most neglected parts of our country and world.

With this being my first CCDA conference, I wasn't sure what to expect. But I'm certainly glad that I attended as I was able to hear from and meet a number of people that have similar perspectives on the Christian faith as I do. Oftentimes, I find myself in circles where the label that is placed upon me as a white, evangelical Christian doesn't really fit. My worldview fit right in this week.

At the CCDA conference, I was able to hear about issues that are important to me like concern for the poor, racial reconciliation and justice for the marginalized. It was refreshing to be at home in an environment where all political preferences were welcomed and the common theme was a commitment to Jesus and to live out the Word of God in our communities.

I wasn't able to stay for the whole conference, but I got a lot out of what I was able to experience. I was able to spend some time with old friends and make some new ones. Some highlights for me were:

- Dr. Soong-Chan Rah's perspective on the changing evangelicalism in the world and the role that people of color are playing in that change. He highlighted the need to address power structures if those of us from the white community want to truly make a lasting difference in urban communities. This quote stood out:
"If you consider yourselves an urban missionary yet have never been mentored by someone from the community you are seeking to reach, then you are not a missionary; you are a colonialist."
- Jim Wallis' challenge that although faith is a personal matter, it is never private.
- Dr. John Perkins spending time in the book of I John with us and compellingly demonstrating how our faith in Christ must influence how we interact with others.
- Shane Claiborne, when speaking to the topic of being single and in ministry, commented that the pursuit of Jesus needs to be our ultimate goal (not getting married). He jokingly observed that he doesn't look at Mother Teresa and think "if only she had found a good man."
- Having lunch with Mark Charles, a new friend, and Charles Gilmer. We discussed American history and the relationship between Native and African American communities.
- Dinner with Ted Gandy, who has given most of his adult life to serving urban communities and working among under served people. Several years ago Ted learned that he was of African American heritage. Hearing his story was fascinating.
It was also great to run into former Impact students that we've worked with and other Christian leaders from across the country. If you are looking to become better resourced in learning how to serve the poor or to minister in urban communities, I highly suggest becoming part of CCDA. To learn more, click here.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

The Cure For a "Me-Centered" Gospel

Upon collecting the day's mail after getting home from the office this evening, I flipped through a new catalogue from a popular Christian bookstore chain. The theme of the issue was Christmas and an assortment of CD's, greeting cards, rocks with inspirational sayings, DVD's, candles, calendar and books were offered.

What caught my eye in an advertisement geared around a holiday recognizing the birth of our Savior and the spirit of giving were book titles such as "It's Your Time", "You Were Born For This" and "Extraordinary: The Life You Were Meant to Live."

I don't know if you're catching a theme there but it has very little to do with Jesus or the giving nature of the Christmas season. There is a disturbing trend in Christian circles of our focus not being on God or even on others...but on ourselves. You, You, You.

We tend to think the Christian life is all about us. We believe we're special and that Jesus died for us and, therefore, we should get everything our selfish hearts desire. And make no mistake about it, my heart is selfish just like yours is. The point of the gospel of Jesus is to take our eyes of ourselves and place them on the One who deserves our attention.

When we interpret the gospel as being primarily about what God can give us, we fail to grasp the utter significance of the abundant life that Jesus spoke of in John 10. This abundant life is not wrapped up in cars and homes and jewelry and money. It is a life of fullness in relationship with God and others.

The picture that Christmas paints demonstrates the heart of the gospel. Jesus, being God himself, left the friendly confines of heaven to be born as a baby and live among us sinful people. He put on flesh and dealt with everything we deal with but did not sin. He died a cruel and brutal death because of my sin and yours. And He offers us forgiveness of sin and life everlasting.

When we treat God as some kind of cosmic Sugar Daddy that exists to give us whatever we demand, our attention is in the wrong place. Our focus should be on Him -- our Creator, Sustainer and Life. When our focus moves off of us and onto God, we see Him in His holiness and see ourselves in our unrighteousness. Our attitude is no longer one of demanding what God should give us but becomes one of gratitude for all that He has already done.

If you would like to learn more about how to enter into a relationship with Jesus Christ, please click here.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Support for Abortion Waning

According to a recent report from the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press, support for legalized abortion in the United States has been losing ground. 44% of Americans now feel that abortion should be illegal all or at least most of the time. Less than half of Americans (47%) now believe that it should be legal in all or most cases.

This study demonstrates a shift in thinking when it comes to the issue of abortion. In recent years, the majority of Americans supported the legal status of abortion but these recent numbers indicate that the country is now more evenly divided on the matter.

In commenting on these findings the Pew Center doesn't identify any single issue that has affected the change:
"No single reason for the shift in opinions is apparent, but the pattern of changes suggests that the election of a pro-choice Democrat for president may be a contributing factor. Among Republicans, there has been a seven point decline in support for legal abortion and a corresponding six point increase in opposition to abortion. But the change is smaller among Democrats, whose support for legal abortion is down four points with no corresponding increase in pro-life opinion. Indeed, three groups of President Obama’s strongest supporters – African Americans, young people and those unaffiliated with a religion – have not changed their views on abortion at all. At the same time, fully half of conservative Republicans (52%) – the political group most opposed to abortion – say they worry Obama will go too far in supporting abortion rights."
It will be interesting to see if this trend continues and what changes will occur if a majority of Americans become opposed to abortion rights. You can read more about the report here.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

The Balloon Boy & An Out of Control Media

While out this earlier this afternoon with my son, I checked my Twitter account on my phone and saw several "tweets" about some kid in an air balloon. By the time I got home a couple hours later, the six-year-old boy was found safe and sound as it was learned he was never in the runaway balloon.

But this "news" story doesn't seem to be going away anytime soon. Although questions have arisen about whether this whole fiasco was planned by attention-seeking parents, this case just goes to show how the media reports events these days and how a fascinated public eats it up.

Oddly, Seth Godin just wrote earlier this morning about the emotional manner in which news gets reported in a post entitled "The Problem With Cable News Thinking." Godin's thoughts probably deal more with political commentary but I think the twelve traits he identifies apply here as being all too common in the media:
1. Focus on the urgent instead of the important.
2. Vivid emotions and the visuals that go with them as a selector for what's important.
3. Emphasis on noise over thoughtful analysis.
4. Unwillingness to reverse course and change one's mind.
5. Xenophobic and jingoistic reactions (fear of outsiders).
6. Defense of the status quo encouraged by an audience self-selected to be uniform.
7. Things become important merely because others have decided they are important.
8. Top down messaging encourages an echo chamber (agree with this edict or change the channel).
9. Ill-informed about history and this particular issue.
10. Confusing opinion with the truth.
11. Revising facts to fit a point of view.
12. Unwillingness to review past mistakes in light of history and use those to do better next time.
Even though there is a lot of good things that can be offered through modern media, there seems to be an insatiable desire for "breaking news" that might not really be news. I guess if we quit watching and reading, it would stop getting put out there. But, of course, that's a big "if."

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Having Childlike Faith

By way of Justin Taylor, the following is an excerpt from a sermon given some time ago by John Piper:
"Your daddy is standing in a swimming pool out a little bit from the edge. You are, let’s say, three years old and standing on the edge of the pool. Daddy holds out his arms to you and says, “Jump, I’ll catch you. I promise.” Now, how do you make your daddy look good at that moment? Answer: trust him and jump. Have faith in him and jump. That makes him look strong and wise and loving. But if you won’t jump, if you shake your head and run away from the edge, you make your daddy look bad. It looks like you are saying, “he can’t catch me” or “he won’t catch me” or “it’s not a good idea to do what he tells me to do.” And all three of those make your dad look bad.

But you don’t want to make God look bad. So you trust him. Then you make him look good–which he really is. And that is what we mean when we say, “Faith glorifies God” or “Faith gives God glory.” It makes him look as good as he really is. So trusting God is really important.

And the harder it seems for him to fulfill his promise, the better he looks when you trust him. Suppose that you are at the deep end of a pool by the diving board. You are four years old and can’t swim, and your daddy is at the other end of the pool. Suddenly a big, mean dog crawls under the fence and shows his teeth and growls at you and starts coming toward you to bite you. You crawl up on the diving board and walk toward the end to get away from him. The dog puts his front paws up on the diving board. Just then, your daddy sees what’s happening and calls out, “Johnny, jump in the water. I’ll get you.”

Now, you have never jumped from one meter high and you can’t swim and your daddy is not underneath you and this water is way over your head. How do you make your daddy look good in that moment? You jump. And almost as soon as you hit the water, you feel his hands under your arms and he treads water holding you safely while someone chases the dog away. Then he takes you to the side of the pool.

We give glory to God when we trust him to do what he has promised to do–especially when all human possibilities are exhausted. Faith glorifies God. That is why God planned for faith to be the way we are justified."

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Chuck Swindoll on Leadership

On the Out of Ur blog Drew Dyck lists some points that Chuck Swindoll, well-known author, Bible teacher and former president of Dallas Theological Seminary, shared in a message last week at the Catalyst '09 conference. Dr. Swindoll's talk was entitled "Ten Things I Have Learned During Nearly 50 Years of Leadership" and here is a summary of what he shared:

1. Leadership is lonely.

2. Success is dangerous.

3. It's hardest to lead at home.

4. Being real is essential.

5. Obedience is painful.

6. Brokenness and failure are necessary.

7. Attitude is more important than actions.

8. Integrity eclipses image.

9. God's way is better than my way.

10. Christ-likeness begins and ends with humility.

It's always good to hear from those that have served faithfully and have a lifetime of experiences to share with those of us that are still young in our ministry careers. To read more of Drew Dyck's thoughts on Swindoll's points, click here.

Friday, October 09, 2009

American Idol Worship

For many of us when we think of the biblical concept of idol worship, we think of golden calves and false gods. But for those of us in 2009 America, idol worship is very much real and alive. In the midst of an examination of the Ten Commandments, well-known Seattle pastor Mark Driscoll was recently interviewed on ABC's Nightline concerning the topic of idols. He pointed out how our modern-day gods of sex, money, image may be just as destructive, if not more so, than those of antiquity.

Driscoll defines an idol as follows:
"An idol is someone or something that occupies the place of God in your life," he said. "[It] gives you identity, meaning, value, purpose, love, significance, security. When the Bible uses the word 'idol', that's what it's getting at."
Simply put, an idol is anything which replaces God as the rightful center of our lives. We can look to idols such as movie stars, athletes, singers or politicians. Or our idols may be materialism, physical gratification, our work or even leisure. It could be anything where we say, "God, this is more important than you and I will give my time, thoughts, money and my heart to it in a way that not even you can compete."

Our hearts can easily stray and living within such a self-centered, consumerist culture such as ours does not help much. We are constantly bombarded with messages about what we deserve, what we owe ourselves and the luxuries that cannot be done without. If we are not careful, our affections wander and we end up investing our lives in selfish pursuits that will ultimately not matter when the final accounting of our lives takes place.

Pastor Driscoll's interview on Nightline can be viewed below. Please click here if the video player doesn't show up.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

The One Who Knows Our Name

Back in the 1980's there was a hit television show called Cheers that told the story of rag tag bunch of misfits that found community at a bar in Boston. The bar was owned by a former baseball player and recovering alcoholic named Sam Malone. He helped to create an environment where an overweight accountant, a postal worker that still lived with his mom, a stressed out single mom and a dimwitted country boy could all find a sense of belonging and friendship. The popular theme song had the following chorus:
"Sometimes you want to go
Where everybody knows your name,
and they're always glad you came.
You wanna be where you can see,
our troubles are all the same
You wanna be where everybody knows
Your name."
It seems to be part of our nature as human beings that we want others to know our name. It is part of our identity and the fact that another person knows our name can communicate that we are known and accepted. It is why a recent encounter that I had left me feeling disturbed and unsettled.

I was part of a discussion with a small group of people where someone else was facilitating. The facilitator, who I'd met before but didn't know well, was genuinely engaging and did a good job with the material we were covering. But one thing bothered me. He didn't seem to know my name. But that wasn't really it. What troubled me was that he did know my name! It was right in front of him and was included in the exercise he was leading us in.

But even though he directly referred to the others in my group by name several times each, he didn't speak to me directly by name. To be fair, it wasn't as though he was rude. He included us all in the discussion. My voice was heard just like the others and my feedback was listened to. But where he spoke to the others by name (e.g. "Tom, what do you think about that? "Mike, would you tend to agree with that statement", etc.), he didn't refer to me in the same fashion.

I realized after this meeting how important it is to recognize people as individuals -- by name. It helps us to feel valued and important and part of the group. In this case, it probably wouldn't have bothered me so much if this individual hadn't exercised this principle with everyone else but me. He seemed to understand the importance of acknowledging others by name...he just didn't do it with me.

Being in Christian ministry, I have the opportunity to meet an awful lot of people. I try to make a concerted effort to remember people's name but, like others, I forget from time to time or immediately forget after asking for someone's name. I can get caught up thinking about the impression I'm making or what they're thinking of me or just being distracted by others that are around.

Fortunately for us, our heavenly Father knows us in a way that other people don't. Look at what Isaiah 43 says:
But now, this is what the LORD says—
he who created you, O Jacob,
he who formed you, O Israel:
"Fear not, for I have redeemed you;
I have summoned you by name; you are mine.

When you pass through the waters,
I will be with you;
and when you pass through the rivers,
they will not sweep over you.
When you walk through the fire,
you will not be burned;
the flames will not set you ablaze.

For I am the LORD, your God,
the Holy One of Israel, your Savior"
The God of the universe knows our name and, not only that, but He'll be with us no matter what we may be going through. He knows our name in the good times and the bad times and in the valleys and on the mountains. But, ultimately, it is His name that truly matters. I really don't need to be about making my name known. If I make His name, Jesus, known then it doesn't matter if someone knows my name as long as they know His. I look forward to one day being in "a place where everybody knows HIS name."

Sunday, October 04, 2009

Roman Polanski, Hollywood & Morality

The curious case of film director Roman Polanski has been drawing quite a bit of attention recently as a result of his arrest in Switzerland on charges stemming from something that happened over thirty years ago. In case you're not aware, Polanski, who is an Oscar winner and a highly regarded filmmaker in Hollywood circles, was arrested in 1977 for having sex with a thirteen year old girl after providing drugs and alcohol for her.

After entering into a plea agreement at the time, Polanski spent six weeks in jail for evaluation and was released. Upon learning that he might be sent to jail, he left the United States and has never returned. Polanski has avoided any country that has an extradition treaty with the U.S. and, therefore, has never been fully prosecuted for his crime.

His case has stirred up a lot of controversy as many in the Hollywood establishment have come to his defense and called for his release. But the general public doesn't view Polanski primarily as an Oscar winner. What most of us see is someone that raped a barely teenage girl and has escaped judgment. Paul Harris frames it well:
"The Polanski backlash has spread far and wide. He was never popular at all on the right wing of America's culture, but now middle America is firmly in favour of seeing him in a Californian courtroom. Talk show hosts, radio commentators and newspaper editorials from coast to coast have all insisted that the arrest was long overdue and that Polanski needs to be brought to the US.

"Hollywood people really don't see the world in the same way as average people... that is why there is a backlash," said Mike Levine, a Hollywood PR expert.

But it is perhaps no surprise that the gap between Hollywood and the rest of America has grown so large on this particular case. Because of his long and illustrious career, Polanski is a friend and colleague of nearly all the main players in the film world. They are his confidantes and his peers. His movies have made them stars and helped them to earn millions. They live in the same rarefied world of global fame. "Elite Hollywood culture is protecting one of its own," said Alexander Riley, a professor of sociology at Bucknell University.

It is also speaks to a certain type of Hollywood culture which appears to insist that its top stars are in some ways elevated above the law and should be treated differently to ordinary members of the public.

If Polanski was just an ordinary man instead of a world-famous film director, the bare facts of his case would be likely to elicit little sympathy – especially from the world famous. Hollywood stars seem to be arguing, in some ways, that Polanski's talent should allow him some sort of free pass for his past behaviour. "Hollywood... looks at the Polanski case and says, 'You have to make allowances for genius'," said Gallagher.

Hollywood's elite also functions as a kind of club and Polanski, seen by the elite as a great European auteur director, is a firm member. That requires a certain degree of success but also a great deal of ideological conformity. It is a cliche that Hollywood is uniformly liberal in its politics, but one with more than a dash of truth in it. It is certainly interesting to see the reaction to Polanski's case and compare it with the reaction to Mel Gibson, when he was caught mouthing drunken anti-Semitic abuse.

Gibson, a rare conservative in Hollywood, was brutally condemned by his fellow stars and sent into virtual career exile. Polanski, whose crime is far more serious, has seen a vast outpouring of sympathy. Being a member of the Hollywood club certainly seems to have its privileges.

"The difference between the reaction to Gibson and the reaction to Polanski has been just huge. Huge!" said celebrity interviewer Gayl Murphy. "That says a lot about what Hollywood thinks is important to them."
In some respects, Polanski is a sympathetic figure. A diminutive man who survived the Holocaust and had his second wife, actress Sharon Tate, killed by the Charles Manson gang in 1969, he has certainly gone through his fair share of suffering in life. But his suffering does not give him a free pass to perform criminal acts on young girls. Perhaps those in Hollywood will eventually see this.

Friday, October 02, 2009

Hip-Hop as Religion?

Taken from Chanel Graham at
"Pioneering hip-hop artist KRS-One is releasing a new book this fall called The Gospel of Hip-Hop. The 600-page book is modeled after the Christian Bible and said to serve as a life-guide manual for 'Hiphoppas," the term KRS-One uses to describe members of hip-hop culture. Including a hodgepodge of philosophy on faith, peace, and self-reliance, KRS-One hopes to help Hiphoppas change their circumstances to live a life that encompasses what he's termed the H-LAW (Health, Love, Awareness, and Wealth).

This isn't the first time KRS-One has talked about hip-hop as a religion. Back in 2000, he spoke with Beliefnet about what he called the Temple of Hiphop, a group whose membership included Lauryn Hill, Kid Capri, and Busta Rhymes among others who declared hip-hop their life. KRS-One, whose real name is Lawrence Krishna Parker, described the Temple of Hiphop as a "hip-hop preservation society." He said, "We believe that not only is hip-hop divine, but the temple is divinely ordained, because we accept it as that."

The Gospel of Hip-Hop is a continuation of the Temple of Hiphop ideals, as well as KRS-One's 14-year study of the music subculture. The rapper claims, "In 100 years, this book will be a new religion on earth." Bold statement.

We're not so sure KRS-One has stumbled onto the next Nation of Islam or anything, but his language does strike us as sounding a bit cultish. It is interesting, though, to ponder the idea of hip-hop as more than music. It has already evolved into a culture that transcends race and class, but at what point does the music evolve into a religion? Should we be concerned about false prophets springing up from the world of hip-hop?

I don't know about you, but it sounds to us like KRS-One is ascribing to hip-hop the kind of faith and devotion that should only belong to our Father in heaven. Perhaps he's found a purpose and fulfillment in hip-hop that he's been unable to find anywhere else. I'm sure there's millions of young men and women in our cities, suburbs, and rural communities who may have a similar testimony. Still, KRS-One and each of us need to step back from the idols we've embraced in life and realize that anything that's righteous and true is a gift from above, not from Jay Z or Lil Wayne."

Thursday, October 01, 2009

LeBron James & "More Than a Game"

Lebron James is one of the few youth basketball phenoms that went onto live up to the hype. On the cover of Sports Illustrated as a high school junior, James went directly from his prep team in Akron, Ohio to superstardom with the Cleveland Cavaliers in the NBA.

Although I've never met James, there are a lot of connections that have enabled me to follow his journey over the years. I lived just outside of Akron for several years and was a member of a church in west Akron, The House of the Lord, that James attended with friends periodically throughout his youth.

That is why I'm looking forward to an upcoming documentary film, More Than a Game, that will be opening in a few select cities this Friday. The film follows the story of the friendship between James and several friends that grew up together and went onto win a national high school basketball championship.

Their coach, Dru Joyce, was interviewed by Christianity Today regarding the movie. Joyce, a strong Christian who was also a member at The House of the Lord during my time there, reflects upon how he views his role as a basketball coach:
"As a Christian, I don't believe that you can separate your faith from anything you do. When I got the opportunity to do the travel team, I saw its purpose as using basketball to teach life skills. And as time moved on and I became a better coach, seven principles developed as the foundation for everything we did: humility, unity, discipline, thankfulness, servanthood, integrity, and passion. So now I hope to grow young men that exemplify those qualities and will carry them into life, whether it includes basketball or not.

Also, I've tried over time to emphasize the relationships. When it's all said and done, the relationships are all the players are going to take out of here. I want them to understand that basketball is a vehicle to help them get from Point A to Point B. It's not the be-all and end-all. They should use basketball and not let it use them."
I appreciate Dru's perspective on the influence that he has on the lives of these young men. Games will come and go but it is the lessons that are learned through athletics that last long after the buzzer sounds. As a coach myself, I hope that my players are much more concerned about the type of people they are becoming than what a scoreboard says.

You can view the trailer for the movie here.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

The Ugly Face of Black on Black Crime

You may have heard about the tragic murder of a Chicago high school student in a brutal attack by classmates last week. Derrion Albert, a 16-year-old honor student, was killed after he stopped to watch a fight between two local gangs on his way home from school. Derrion was not involved with either gang but was merely a bystander. On a personal level, I have been to the spot where this murder happened. Our ministry, Campus Crusade, has a youth center located there that serves the Roseland community.

Although the loss of any young person at the hands of another is a tragedy, there is an underlying story behind this murder that often goes unnoticed and is under reported by the mainstream media. It is the troubling issue of black on black crime.

Derrion was African American and so were his assailants. Sadly, this young student with a hopeful future has now had his life snuffed out by others that looked just like him. And he's not the only one. According to national statistics, homicide is the leading cause of death for African American males from the ages of 15-34. Remarkably, 93% of young black men who are victims of homicide die at the hands of another African American.

Had Derrion been viciously punched, kicked and attacked with railroad ties by white youth, his murder would be headlined in all major media. Curiously, his story gets merely a secondary mention in the midst of more pressing headlines like the renaming of Jon & Kate Plus Eight and airlines offering Wi-Fi service.

Our society has gotten so immune to the death of children that murder doesn't seem to phase us much anymore. I'm hoping that African American leaders like Rev. Jesse Jackson (who lives in Chicago) would stand up and use Derrion's story as an example of the horror of black-on-black crime. Too many promising lives are ended for careless and senseless reasons. Things like this should shake us up and cause us to examine what we can do to make a difference in the lives of young people. More than that it should cause parents who aren't taking their parental duties seriously to wake up.

Writer Judy Keen of USA Today comments on the story:
"There were 307 homicides in the city from Jan. 1 through the end of August, down from 338 in the same period last year, the Chicago Police Department says. More than half of this year's homicides involved gangs. "Misguided youth need leadership in their life. This is learned behavior," said Tio Hardiman of CeaseFire Illinois, an anti-violence group. "You can put all the police in the world in the city, but that's not enough," he said. CeaseFire intervenes in conflicts and negotiates treaties between rival groups, he said, and is working to prevent a violent reaction to Albert's slaying. Dwayne Overstreet, a minister, went to Fenger to pray for peace. "It's not that these young people don't understand the value of life," he said. "They haven't been taught the value of life."

Overstreet says Albert's death was a reminder of the "chaos" and disregard for life across the city. "It feels sometimes like you're in a war zone," he said.

"I'm praying and hoping that out of this will come something positive," said Martin Watt, a minister from suburban Harvey who came to Fenger to lead a hymn that intoned: I'm feeling so much better since I lay my burden down.

Community leaders held a news conference Monday asking anyone with information to come forward. Albert's relatives were there, wearing T-shirts with his photo and the words: "Gone too soon, too young."
A video of the attack on Derrion, taken on the cell phone of eyewitness, has been posted online. Because of its graphic nature, I have chosen not to post it here out of respect for his family. May God somehow use this senseless attack to demonstrate the preciousness and value in each human life.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Dealing With Church Conflict

Because churches are made up of fallen people, there will inevitably be conflict, disagreements and varying perspectives on how church should be done. In most cases these differences can be worked out amicably without much harm. In other cases, it doesn't always turn out as one would hope.

Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church, a well-known church founded by the late D. James Kennedy and located in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, has been going through a bit of a rough stretch as its members adjust to having only their second senior pastor in the church's nearly half-century of existence. Just this past March Coral Ridge installed Tullian Tchividjian as senior pastor.

Shortly after Rev. Tchividjian's hiring some rifts began to form as some members of Coral Ridge had trouble with Tchividjian's style and approach to ministry. Tchividjian, who happens to be the grandson of evangelist Billy Graham, is significantly younger than Kennedy and ruffled the feathers of some long-time members of the church. Among the things that were mentioned were his lack of focus on political issues in his sermons and his refusal to wear a robe.

As is the case with many church disputes, the disagreements in this instance seem to revolve around things that don't necessarily have their basis in Scripture. For example, there are no biblical requirements for pastors to wear robes or for them to march in-step with a certain political party. Fortunately, the members of Coral Ridge voted to retain Tchividjian as their pastor after a congregational vote recently.

Pastor Tchividjian offered a brief interview with Christianity Today last week which you can read here. I appreciate the maturity with which he has handled this situation publicly and indicated desire to represent Christ well, even in the midst of disagreement with other Christians. When asked how to discuss the situation publicly without worsening it, Tchividjian said this:
"My commitment is to speak about those who opposed me in a forgiving manner, in a Christ-like manner. I will, by God's grace, do my best to take the high road, to not disparage anybody, to operate in a posture of understanding. Some of these people had only had one pastor ever. So that's going to be hard for some people.

So I am very much working hard to treat those who have opposed me the way God and Christ treated me."
As I said, conflict in the church is inevitable because we are each sinful people. How we choose to respond to that conflict is what a watching world is most interested in.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Sports Illustrated Focuses on Detroit

At a time when things seem bleakest in the city of Detroit, the Detroit Tigers are offering a ray of hope as they march towards a possible playoff bid. Sports Illustrated's most recent cover story features the Tigers resurgence and the effect that the successful ball team is having on the city.

Looking back over forty years, Detroit faced another challenging time when the riots of 1967 left the city reeling as many residents, primarily white, left the city for the suburbs. An inspired 1968 Tigers squad beat the heavily favored St. Louis Cardinals in the World Series. My dad, who was in the U.S. Marine Corps in Vietnam at the time, likes to share how he won a lot of money on that series from some leathernecks that didn't think Detroit had a shot :)

In these current times, the Tigers have stood with the community and demonstrated an undeniable degree of support for the auto industry. SI comments:
"The most stunning example of community outreach did not involve a nonprofit organization but a bankrupt one. At the end of last season General Motors decided it could no longer afford to sponsor the fountain over the centerfield fence at Comerica Park, which shoots great plumes into the air whenever a Tiger hits a home run. The fountain is the most valuable piece of advertising space in the stadium, and two corporations quickly expressed interest in taking GM's place. One offered to pay $1.5 million for three years. Mike Ilitch, the Tigers' owner, considered the offer seriously. Then he rejected it in favor of a deal that would pay him nothing at all. Ilitch kept the GM name where it was, free of charge, and added the Ford and Chrysler logos on each flank, over the message: THE DETROIT TIGERS SUPPORT OUR AUTOMAKERS. To emphasize the point, the Tigers invited one employee from each of the embattled car giants to throw out the first pitch on Opening Day. Before GM inspector Loretta Abiodun went into her windup, she turned and looked at the fountain. "It was breathtaking," she says."
The Tigers will have to get past a good Minnesota team in order to make the playoffs and will be underdogs throughout if they are able to advance. But I'm one Tigers fan that thinks a championship this year (the 25th anniversary of the '84 champions) would be pretty neat to see.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

More Immigrants Becoming U.S. Citizens After Military Service

An ongoing discussion in recent years has revolved around the role that the U.S. government should play in handling immigrants to the United States. In order to bolster thinning military ranks in the midst of ongoing conflicts in the Middle East and Central Asia, the government is offering to fast-track immigrants who serve in the military so that they can become U.S. citizens.

The Orlando Sentinel states the following:
"National immigration statistics show that the number of military immigrants becoming citizens is not only the highest since the Iraq and Afghanistan wars started in 2002 and 2003, but is at a level not reached since 1970. About 9,000 have become citizens this year.

As the country relies on more immigrants to help win its wars — more than 100,000 are currently enlisted, making up about 8 percent of armed forces — it is making an effort to grant them citizenship.

"It's us trying to reach them," said Sharon Scheidhauer, spokeswoman for U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services in Orlando. "We set up a separate system: Their applications go to a separate place so they are handled very quickly, and they can get that honor."

The armed forces are targeting immigrants as early as boot camp and are offering assistance in filling out citizenship paperwork. Congress also passed a law waiving the $675 application fees, and former President George W. Bush had already invoked a wartime law waiving waiting periods before applying for those enlisted."
There are many hard-working immigrants from other countries that have defended the U.S. by serving in our military. The offer to speed up the process for these individuals who desire to become U.S. citizens seems like a reasonable and fair way of recognizing their service.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

How the Economy Has Affected Hispanics

According to Ethnic Technologies, LLC, at least one broad ethnic group in the United States, Hispanics, has not felt the effects of the current economic downturn as much others. In a recent article, the following is stated:
"The U.S. Hispanic market is booming. Hispanic households across the United States will sharply increase their economic clout over the next ten years. The demographic explosion has continued since 1990 and there is no let up. Go to Wal-Mart, Sears, K-Mart, to name a few stores, and you will see many Hispanic families loaded with consumer goods. The fact is, Hispanics love to buy and almost always buy in cash.

This is not a debt-ridden community. For years they learned the hard way that to have something, one has to earn it and save. Credit card companies solicit many Hispanic households.

Hispanics send money to the families they left behind in their country of origin. And it is true that these remittances are billions of dollars. But according to the National Immigration Forum, in addition to consumer spending, "immigrants and their businesses contribute $162 billion dollars in tax revenue to federal, state and local governments. They work in key sectors, start their own businesses and in general contribute to a thriving economy."
I guess there's something to be said for saving and only buying what you can afford. You can read the complete article here.

Thanks to my friend, Keith, for the link.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

100 Push Ups Challenge Completed!

After two months of intense workouts and performing thousands of push ups, I was finally able to do one hundred consecutive push ups without a break. With quivering arms, legs and midsection, I was able to complete the 100 Push Ups Challenge this evening.

You can read about my initial progress on the challenge here and where I was after six weeks here. I'm glad I stuck with it. It was well-worth the effort. Thanks to everyone that has followed along on this journey.

Do You Know the United States Better Than Al Franken?

I'm a person that enjoys seeking to master essentially useless skills that have the slight potential to impress friends. I've taught myself how to juggle, can solve a Rubik's Cube and I'm close to being able to do 100 push-ups in a row. When you don't have looks, talent, or humor, you've got to have something, right?

Which brings me to Senator Al Franken. Franken, once known as a bit player on Saturday Night Live and now a U.S. Senator from Minnesota, possesses a talent that I find extremely impressive. In less than two minutes, Franken can draw the United free hand...from memory. And not just the outline of the country but each of the 48 contiguous states.

The following video clip is taken from over twenty years ago on the David Letterman show. You'll need to pick it up at the 6:35 mark to see Franken's feat. If the video player doesn't show up click here.

Monday, September 21, 2009

The Presence of Africans in Christian History

In my ministry with African American college students over the years a question that has often come up is whether Christianity is just a religion for the white man and offers nothing for people of color. Remarkably, few people know about the presence of black people in the Bible and the rich history that those of African descent have played in the history of the Christian church.

St. Augustine, one of the most influential early Christian figures, was himself an African who had this to say:
"I repeat, if she who asks is the Church, which no one disputes, and they hear something about Africa; then she who asks is out of Africa; and because it is the Church, the Church is out of Africa"
Although that might seem like a fairly provocative statement, it really isn't when you begin to examine the presence of Africans and those that would be considered black by today's standards throughout church history. For example, Matthew and John Mark, authors of two of the gospel accounts of Jesus, journeyed to Africa and the gospel message spread rapidly through north Africa, primarily in Egypt, Libya, and Tunisia. In fact, some of the first foreign missionaries after the apostles were Africans. The gospel took root on the continent of Africa in such a way that in the early part of the first millennium, most important questions of doctrine were settled under the leadership of African scholars.

Going back earlier, to the beginning of time, we know that the first people resided in Africa. In Before the Mayflower, historian Lerone Bennett states the following:
"Civilization started in the great river valleys of Africa and Asia, in the Fertile Crescent in the Near East and along the narrow ribbon of the Nile in Africa. Blacks, or people who would be considered black today, were among the first people to use tools, paint pictures, plant seeds, and worship gods."
Jumping forward to Noah and the Ark where Christians believe that God sent a great flood to the earth that destroyed all of humanity, save for Noah and his family. The earth was re-populated through Noah’s three sons and their wives:
  1. Ham (dark or black) – Africans, Asians, and Indians
  2. Shem (dusky or olive-colored) – Middle Eastern (Arabic) and Jews
  3. Japheth (bright or fair) – Europeans
From Noah's son Ham came his sons: Cush (Ethiopians), Mizraim (Egyptians), Put (Libyans), and Canaan (Canaanites). Of these grandchildren of Noah came the darker skinned peoples of the earth and from these descendants of Noah eventually came the following selected influential figures in biblical history:
  • Jethro – the Priest of Midian who became the father-in-law to Moses when his daughter, Zipporah (a Cushite), married him.
  • Nimrod – was the ruler of the land of Shinar, the father of Assyrian and Babylonian Empires, and was the first great leader of a world civilization.
  • Joshua – Joseph’s grandson came from the tribe of Ephraim and was a great leader of Israel.
  • King David – one of the most well-known figures of the Old Testament whose great-grandmother was Rahab (a Canaanite), and mother was Ruth (a Moabite).
  • King Solomon – was recognized as the wisest man ever. His father was David and mother was Bathsheba (daughter of Sheba).
  • The Ethiopian Eunuch of Acts 8. The early disciple Philip encountered him, a man of great importance and influence. According to church history, this Ethiopian helped spread the gospel in Africa after becoming a Christian.
  • Simon of Cyrene – was a man who helped Jesus carry his crossbar on the way to Golgotha. It's interesting to note that when Jesus needed help at his most vulnerable hour, an African man helped him.
  • Jesus Christ. Although we can't be certain of the color of Jesus's skin, there were several women mentioned in the genealogy of Jesus in Matthew 1 (Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, and Bathsheba) that were of Hamitic descent.
Looking at early church history, we find a number of key African figures such as:
  • Tertullian – a major contributor to the Christian doctrine of the Trinity.
  • St. Augustine – who wrote the seminal works "Confessions" & "City of God." He was regarded as the one of the first highly regarded theologians, was of African descent and was educated at an African university.
  • Athanasius – attended the Council of Nicea in AD 325, in which Christian orthodoxy was defended against a heretic by the name of Arian. Athanasius wrote a letter in AD 367 which is the first evidence of all 27 books of the New Testament being included as the Scripture canon.
  • Cyprian – was the Bishop of Carthage and became a martyr when he was beheaded in AD 258 for his faith. He is one of the most influential writers of the early Latin Church.
Some say Christianity is a slave religion and the Bible is a white man’s book. Leaders from the Nation of Islam assert that Islam is the true religion for black people. But look at the following facts on whether Christianity or Islam might be considered the "natural" religion for those of African descent:
  1. Jesus was born in the 1st century whereas Muhammad was born in the 5th century.
  2. Blacks in Africa had built churches on African soil before Muhammad was even born.
  3. Arabic Muslims were the first to target Blacks exclusively for slavery and Europeans adopted this from them. This does does not excuse any white participants in the slave trade but it needs to be stated that it wasn't solely whites who took part.
  4. Lamin Sanneh, a well-respected Ivy League professor, claims that Christianity reached West Africa prior to Africans being brought to the U.S. as slaves.
Lastly, when we think of the pivotal time in church history shortly after Christ's crucifixion, resurrection and ascension, Africans played a pivotal role. They were present at Pentecost when the Holy Spirit fell and they participated in sending Paul and Barnabas off on their missionary journeys. Africans were not only present, but were leaders in the Church from the earliest beginnings. So if you're of African descent and anyone ever challenges you on why you're a Christian, you might want to share a little history with them.

**Thank you to Pastor Dwight McKissic for his book, Beyond Roots, and to Pastor Bill Mitchell for his class, Out of Africa, that helped to shape the content of this post.**