Monday, June 29, 2009

Michael Jackson & the Cost of Celebrity

It's been a handful of days after his unexpected death and the news coverage on Michael Jackson has yet to slow down. The tributes, commentaries and retrospectives seem endless as his fans and admirers seek to cope with the reality that a larger than life superstar is now dead.

I've already written about my thoughts on Jackson here so I won't reiterate all of that but I was intrigued by Doug Gross's article on about the price that the King of Pop paid for his fame. A performer since his earliest days, Michael never was able to experience childhood as others do. In Jackson's own words:
"The public at large has yet to really understand the pressures of childhood celebrity, which, while exciting, always exacts a very heavy price," Jackson wrote in 2000 in a column for the religious Web site beliefnet. "More than anything, I wished to be a normal little boy. I wanted to build tree houses and go to roller-skating parties. But very early on, this became impossible."
Gross refers to the heavy demands Joseph Jackson, Michael's father, placed on Michael and his brothers and how his odd behavior over the years likely stemmed from this disfunction in his formative years. It's been argued that many kids have had harsh, demanding fathers with unreasonable expectations so why did Michael turn out the way he did? I believe the combination of his talent, money, fame, denied youth and inability to connect with others likely all played a role in who he grew up to be.

Michael admitted that he just wanted to be a normal little boy and lead a life that other kids have. He wanted to laugh and play and have a life without pressure. It's sad that a path was chosen for him that he could never really get out of because it was all he knew. In a culture that rewards those that seek fame simply to be famous I wonder how many more Michael Jacksons we may be creating as we use children for entertainment and spit them out when their cuteness wears off and we move onto something else. It's at least something to think about...

Sunday, June 28, 2009

God is Eternal; Man is Mortal

In a week that has been marked by celebrity deaths, including the untimely passing of television pitchman Billy Mays earlier today, we are all reminded of the sacredness and fraility of human life. In my daily Bible reading today I read Psalm 146. I thought this was a telling reminder of the temporal conditions of our time here on Earth and the eternal, limitless, just, compassionate, omnipotent and omnipresent nature of our God.

Here is what Psalm 146 says:
1 Praise the LORD. Praise the LORD, O my soul.

2 I will praise the LORD all my life; I will sing praise to my God as long as I live.

3 Do not put your trust in princes, in mortal men, who cannot save.

4 When their spirit departs, they return to the ground; on that very day their plans come to nothing.

5 Blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the LORD his God,

6 the Maker of heaven and earth, the sea, and everything in them — the LORD, who remains faithful forever.

7 He upholds the cause of the oppressed and gives food to the hungry. The LORD sets prisoners free,

8 the LORD gives sight to the blind, the LORD lifts up those who are bowed down, the LORD loves the righteous.

9 The LORD watches over the alien and sustains the fatherless and the widow, but he frustrates the ways of the wicked.

10 The LORD reigns forever, your God, O Zion, for all generations. Praise the LORD.

Friday, June 26, 2009

John Piper on Television & the Movies

As an avid movie watcher and an occasional television viewer, I found John Piper's recent comments on these forms of media both challenging and uncomfortable. Dr. Piper, a pastor out of Minneapolis, was on a panel at a conference and was asked to speak to his aversion for television, which was assumed to be in direct opposition to that of Mark Driscoll, another well-known pastor and fellow panel participant.

By his own admission, Piper offered a curt response at the conference and failed to adequately address the question. You can watch the interaction in question here. He then wrote a well thought-out viewpoint on his blog in which he explains why he doesn't own a television.

Like many other forms of technology, television and, by extension, movies have the ability to draw people both away from God and closer to Him. They also have the capacity to help families bond or lead them into isolation from one another. It all depends on how we choose to utilize them. So although I'm not one that feels all Christians should not own a television, I do think Piper's onto something.

As a minister of the gospel, I believe it's important for me to understand what is going on in popular culture in order to be relevant to those I'm seeking to minister to. However, it doesn't mean I have to immerse myself in the stuff. I knew who Lady GaGa was for months before I finally heard one of her songs this past week (and for what it's worth, I don't really get it). But even in the desire for relevance, we can easily get caught in the snare of temptation without even intending to. Look at what Piper has to say on the matter:
"I think relevance in preaching hangs very little on watching movies, and I think that much exposure to sensuality, banality, and God-absent entertainment does more to deaden our capacities for joy in Jesus than it does to make us spiritually powerful in the lives of the living dead. Sources of spiritual power—which are what we desperately need—are not in the cinema. You will not want your biographer to write: Prick him and he bleeds movies.

If you want to be relevant, say, for prostitutes, don’t watch a movie with a lot of tumbles in a brothel. Immerse yourself in the gospel, which is tailor-made for prostitutes; then watch Jesus deal with them in the Bible; then go find a prostitute and talk to her. Listen to her, not the movie. Being entertained by sin does not increase compassion for sinners.

There are, perhaps, a few extraordinary men who can watch action-packed, suspenseful, sexually explicit films and come away more godly. But there are not many. And I am certainly not one of them.

I have a high tolerance for violence, high tolerance for bad language, and zero tolerance for nudity. There is a reason for these differences. The violence is make-believe. They don’t really mean those bad words. But that lady is really naked, and I am really watching. And somewhere she has a brokenhearted father."
Lori and I have made the choice to not have cable television in our house. We have TVs and utilize over-the-air broadcast but we don't spend a lot of time flipping through channels looking for what is on. If there is a network program on that we want to watch, we watch it. But we don't feel compelled to always have the television on. We find other things to do (like board games, video games, sports, etc.) in order to spend time together. But we also watch TV shows and movies together as a family.

The questions we have to ask ourselves are:
1. Does this movie or television show draw me closer to God and the ones I love?
2. Does it lead me into temptation or into sin?
3. Is there a better way that I can be spending my time right now?
There is no cut and dried answer about whether Christians should watch TV or go to the movies. But, for most of us, we probably need to examine how we spend our time and consider if we're wasting hours away on things that won't last for eternity. When we look towards the end of our lives I doubt any of us will wish we would have watched more TV. But many of us will have regrets concerning our failure to invest our time in the eternal.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Michael Jackson Dead at 50

To say that I was a Michael Jackson fan as a child would be putting it mildly. So learning of his death this afternoon was a bit of a jolt. I, along with many of his fans, grew tired of eccentricities over the years and were troubled by the allegations that had been directed towards him. But during the peak of his Thriller days, MJ was nothing more than a tremendous entertainer that took the music world by storm.

As a young white kid growing up in the eighties, I wanted to be like Michael in many respects. The Thriller album was the first record I ever bought, his poster was on my wall, I owned a "Beat It" jacket and sequined glove and I even impersonated him at some events and talent shows. Yes, in case you're wondering, I can still moonwalk.

As I got older and Michael got weirder, I began to see him in a different light. I saw him as a child trapped in a man's body with an incredible amount of insecurities to go along with his immense talent. It became increasingly obvious to observers that his issues ran deep and he often seemed out of touch with reality. As a child I looked upon him with admiration and awe; as an adult I viewed him with concern and pity.

There is no doubt that he was one of the most gifted performers in the history of modern music. His videos are still the standard by which others are measured and his upcoming concert dates in London were sold out almost as quickly as they were made available. As I reflect upon his death I feel a sense of sadness because I don't think he ever found the wholeness and fulfillment that each of us long for. His riches and worldwide fame couldn't bring him the happiness he so desperately longed for.

I don't know where Michael was in his faith or what his beliefs about God were. But I do know that his musical talents are not what counts now that he is dead. He had fifty years on this earth and I hope that at some point he placed his faith in Christ.

My all-time favorite song of his is "Man in the Mirror" and I've included the original video for it in his honor. (Please click here if the video player doesn't show up).

Thoughts on Mark Sanford

After having gone AWOL for several days this past week, South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford held a press conference yesterday in which he admitted to being in Argentina and having an affair with a woman there for the last year. Along with Nevada Senator John Ensign, Gov. Sanford is the second high-profile Christian politician in recent days that has admitted to marital infidelity.

Whenever a major political figure has some sort of moral failure the members of that person's party typically go through a period of shame and embarrassment. On the other hand, their opponents often gloat in the downfall of a rival and take advantage of the opportunity to trumpet the superiority of their party. If it's a Republican who falls, we refer to the "hypocrisy" of said individual; if it's a Democrat, we reference the officeholder's "lack of morals." No matter what we call it, sin is sin.

A number of bloggers have quoted the great British writer, C.S. Lewis, in light of these recent political scandals. Lewis had this to say:
"Suppose one reads a story of filthy atrocities in the paper. Then suppose that something turns up suggesting that the story might not be quite true, or not quite so bad as it was made out. Is one’s first feeling, ‘Thank God, even they aren’t quite so bad as that,’ or is it a feeling of disappointment, and even a determination to cling to the first story for the sheer pleasure of thinking your enemies are as bad as possible? If it is the second then it is, I am afraid, the first step in a process which, if followed to the end, will make us into devils."
If we're honest with ourselves, we are probably all in danger of reveling in the misfortune of those that we simply don't like. We want to prove to others that our beliefs and our opinions are better than theirs and we celebrate (whether outwardly or in our hearts) when our rivals fail. Why I take pleasure in the destruction of any one's life is beyond me. Maybe because I'm a sinner, too.

Gov. Sanford made reference to God's moral law and the consequences of our sin when admitting to his own failures. His words:
"I am here because if you were to look at God's laws, they are in every instance designed to protect people from themselves... It's not a moral, rigid list of do's and don'ts, just for the heck of do's and don'ts...It is, indeed, to protect us from ourselves. And the biggest sin of self is, indeed, self...That sin is in fact grounded in this notion of what is it that I want as opposed to somebody else...God's law, indeed, is there to protect you from yourself and there are consequences if you breach that. This press conference is a consequence."
Whether it is someone I know, a public figure I disagree with or a hero I look up to, the best response that I can offer to those that are dealing with the consequences of their sin is to pray for them and God's restoration in their life. Sin has a price and we would all do well to be reminded of our own shortcomings when others fall. Too many great men and women throughout history have given into the temptations of pride, greed and lust for any of us to think that we are beyond it ~ "There but for the grace of God go I."

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Acquaintance With Grief

From Oswald Chambers:
"We are not acquainted with grief in the way in which our Lord was acquainted with it; we endure it, we get through it, but we do not become intimate with it. At the beginning of life we do not reconcile ourselves to the fact of sin. We take a rational view of life and say that a man by controlling his instincts, and by educating himself, can produce a life which will slowly evolve into the life of God.
But as we go on, we find the presence of something which we have not taken into consideration, viz., sin, and it upsets all our calculations. Sin has made the basis of things wild and not rational. We have to recognize that sin is a fact, not a defect; sin is red-handed mutiny against God. Either God or sin must die in my life. The New Testament brings us right down to this one issue. If sin rules in me, God's life in me will be killed; if God rules in me, sin in me will be killed. There is no possible ultimate but that.
The climax of sin is that it crucified Jesus Christ, and what was true in the history of God on earth will be true in your history and in mine. In our mental outlook we have to reconcile ourselves to the fact of sin as the only explanation as to why Jesus Christ came, and as the explanation of the grief and sorrow in life."

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Eat a Frosty, Help Some Kids

You'll have an opportunity this weekend to help orphans with each Frosty purchase that you make at participating Wendy's. In honor of Father's Day, Wendy's is offering to give 50 cents to the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption. Dave Thomas, the founder of Wendy's, was himself adopted and started his foundation to help other kids without parents.

This is a great chance to treat your father and to help children that aren't fortunate to currently have a dad in their lives. Another way to contribute is to send your dad a Frosty Father's Day card. Click here to send your dad a Frosty e-card. I hope my kids read this post :)

(Thanks to Steven Curtis Chapman for the tip.)

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

The Room

A number of years ago I somehow came across a story about a dream that a man had in which he was confronted with all the sins he had ever committed. Shortly thereafter I learned that the story came from Joshua Harris, who had just gained popularity in Christian circles as a result of his book, I Kissed Dating Goodbye.

I've used this story several times in messages that I've given and its power is evident. Harris shares on his blog that this dream really occurred and it is reprinted here with his permission:
"In that place between wakefulness and dreams, I found myself in the room. There were no distinguishing features save for the one wall covered with small index-card files. They were like the ones in libraries that list titles by author or subject in alphabetical order. But these files, which stretched from floor to ceiling and seemingly endlessly in either direction, had very different headings. As I drew near the wall of files, the first to catch my attention was one that read "Girls I Have Liked." I opened it and began flipping through the cards. I quickly shut it, shocked to realize that I recognized the names written on each one.

And then without being told, I knew exactly where I was. This lifeless room with its small files was a crude catalog system for my life. Here were written the actions of my every moment, big and small, in a detail my memory couldn't match.

A sense of wonder and curiosity, coupled with horror, stirred within me as I began randomly opening files and exploring their content. Some brought joy and sweet memories; others a sense of shame and regret so intense that I would look over my shoulder to see if anyone was watching. A file named "Friends" was next to one marked "Friends I Have Betrayed."

The titles ranged from the mundane to the outright weird. "Books I Have Read," "Lies I Have Told," "Comfort I Have Given," "Jokes I Have Laughed At." Some were almost hilarious in their exactness: "Things I've Yelled at My Brothers." Others I couldn't laugh at: "Things I Have Done in My Anger," "Things I Have Muttered Under My Breath at My Parents." I never ceased to be surprised by the contents. Often there were many more cards than I expected. Sometimes fewer than I hoped.

I was overwhelmed by the sheer volume of the life I had lived. Could it be possible that I had the time in my 20 years to write each of these thousands or even millions of cards? But each card confirmed this truth. Each was written in my own handwriting. Each signed with my signature.

When I pulled out the file marked "Songs I Have Listened To," I realized the files grew to contain their contents. The cards were packed tightly, and yet after two or three yards, I hadn't found the end of the file. I shut it, shamed, not so much by the quality of music, but more by the vast amount of time I knew that file represented.

When I came to a file marked "Lustful Thoughts," I felt a chill run through my body. I pulled the file out only an inch, not willing to test its size, and drew out a card. I shuddered at its detailed content. I felt sick to think that such a moment had been recorded.

An almost animal rage broke on me. One thought dominated my mind: "No one must ever see these cards! No one must ever see this room! I have to destroy them!" In an insane frenzy I yanked the file out. Its size didn't matter now. I had to empty it and burn the cards. But as I took it at one end and began pounding it on the floor, I could not dislodge a single card. I became desperate and pulled out a card, only to find it as strong as steel when I tried to tear it

Defeated and utterly helpless, I returned the file to its slot. Leaning my forehead against the wall, I let out a long, self-pitying sigh. And then I saw it. The title bore "People I Have Shared the Gospel With." The handle was brighter than those around it, newer, almost unused. I pulled on its handle and a small box not more than three inches long fell into my hands. I could count the cards it contained on one hand.

And then the tears came. I began to weep. Sobs so deep that they hurt started in my stomach and shook through me. I fell on my knees and cried. I cried out of shame, from the overwhelming shame of it all. The rows of file shelves swirled in my tear-filled eyes. No one must ever, ever know of this room. I must lock it up and hide the key.

But then as I pushed away the tears, I saw Him. No, please not Him. Not here. Oh, anyone but Jesus.

I watched helplessly as He began to open the files and read the cards. I couldn't bear to watch His response. And in the moments I could bring myself to look at His face, I saw a sorrow deeper than my own. He seemed to intuitively go to the worst boxes. Why did He have to read every one?

Finally He turned and looked at me from across the room. He looked at me with pity in His eyes. But this was a pity that didn't anger me. I dropped my head, covered my face with my hands and began to cry again. He walked over and put His arm around me. He could have said so many things. But He didn't say a word. He just cried with me.

Then He got up and walked back to the wall of files. Starting at one end of the room, He took out a file and, one by one, began to sign His name over mine on each card.

"No!" I shouted rushing to Him. All I could find to say was "No, no," as I pulled the card from Him. His name shouldn't be on these cards. But there it was, written in red so rich, so dark, so alive. The name of Jesus covered mine. It was written with His blood.

He gently took the card back. He smiled a sad smile and began to sign the cards. I don't think I'll ever understand how He did it so quickly, but the next instant it seemed I heard Him close the last file and walk back to my side. He placed His hand on my shoulder and said, "It is finished."

I stood up, and He led me out of the room. There was no lock on its door. There were still cards to be written."

By Joshua Harris. Orginally published in New Attitude Magazine. Copyright New Attitude, 1995. You have permission to reprint this in any form. We only ask that you include the appropriate copyright byline and do not alter the content.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Christians & the Poor

Richard Stearns, president of World Vision, was recently interviewed by Mark Galli in Christianity Today about his new book, The Hole in Our Gospel. Stearn offers his compelling and controversial perspective on the active role that all Christians need to take in caring for those in poverty. Among his thoughts:
"About 26,000 children under the age of 5 die every day of causes related to their poverty.

That is the equivalent of 100 planes filled with children crashing every day. If one jet liner crashes in America, it makes world headlines. There is an immediate flurry of activity: Why did it happen? What does the "black box" say? Is there a safety issue with the airplane? Was it a pilot error? And we start to learn about the lives of the people that died.

But where are the headlines? Where are the hearings, the acts of Congress, the things that would happen if a hundred jet liners were crashing every day?

If you looked at the death certificates of those children you would probably read words like starvation, respiratory infection, malaria, maybe HIV/AIDS. But you could easily cross that out and write apathy as the cause of death. The deaths were largely preventable, but those who could have prevented the deaths chose not to. I know that's harsh but I've seen and I know that it is possible to change the equation. It's the sin of our generation. The sin of my parents' generation in the United States was racism. The sin of our generation will be apathy."
You can read the full interview here.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

The Digital TV Transition

Tomorrow is d-day for those of us that still own analog television sets. Unless you've been living under a rock for the past year then you are probably aware that the analog signals for network television stations will no longer be broadcast after tomorrow. The government had extended the deadline for this change from February to June in order to provide ample time for individuals to make the necessary adjustments needed so that they can continue to receive broadcast TV for free.

Since we have a couple analog TVs and do not have cable or a dish, our household is one of the millions of American homes affected. We sent in for our converter box coupons months ago and have been pleased with the results. We now receive close to three times as many stations as we did with the analog signals and the picture is in the crisper, digital format.
Even though this well-publicized change has been anticipated for months and the government has provided $40 coupons for the converter boxes (which usually retail in the $50-60 range), there are still close to 3 million homes (2.5% of the total TV market) that are unprepared for this change. If you're wondering if this digital conversion will affect you, here are some helpful tips:
1. If you are a cable, dish, or satellite TV subscriber then you will be unaffected.

2. If you already own a digital TV with the appropriate antenna, you should not be affected by the change.

3. If you have an analog TV and receive reception through "rabbit ears" antenna, then you will need the digital converter box.
If you have additional questions about the digital TV transition, visit the government's website here.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Christians & The Cult of Personality

The digital age in which we now reside has caused the profile of a growing number of Christian leaders to grow among Christians and non-believers alike. In the past a relatively small number of Christian pastors were well-known by the general population, often because of their prominence in a certain field. Billy Graham (evangelism), Martin Luther King, Jr. (civil rights), and Jerry Falwell (politics) are a few that come to mind.

Nowadays, there are several pastors that are well-recognized among Christians and non-church goers, as well. Rick Warren, Joel Osteen and T.D. Jakes are a few of the more prominent examples. With thousands flocking to hear their sermons each weekend, these pastors are also able to spread their message through their books, television broadcasts, the Internet and other forms of modern media.

Because of this accessibility, many of these figures are treated as celebrities. In fact, even those that aren't well-known carry themselves as such. For example, there is a church near my home that is not that well-known. I've met a lot of people who attend church in Orlando and I can't recall ever meeting anyone that attends this particular congregation. Right at a major intersection near my house towers a huge billboard with the pastor's picture and name advertised for all to see. The billboard almost shouts out, "Hey, don't you want to go to a cool church led by this cool guy?"

The ad seems to market the pastor as the reason to attend this church. And, to be honest, I doubt few outside of his congregation really know who he is. But even if he was a best-selling author and the church had a popular television program, should the pastor be the selling point about why someone should check out the church?

John Piper, a well-known pastor himself, comments on this phenomenon in an article entitled, "Hero Worship and Holy Emulation." Pastor Piper addresses this issue of celebrity pastors from a perspective that few of us can equal. Namely, because he is one. His wisdom is telling:
"What is the meaning of the attention given to well-known pastors? What does the desire for autographs and photographs mean? The negative meaning would be something akin to name-dropping. Our egos are massaged if we can say we know someone famous. You see this on blogs with words like “my friend Barack” and the like. And I presume that, for some, an autograph or a photo has the same ego-boost.

However, I don’t assume the worst of people. There are other possible motives. We will see this below. But it is good to emphasize that all of this is more dangerous to our souls than bullets and bombs. Pride is more fatal than death.

When I say “our souls” I mean all of us—the signature-seeker, the signer, and the cynic who condemns it all (on his very public blog). There is no escaping this new world. The question is, How do we navigate it for the glory of Christ, the crucifixion of self, the spread of truth, the deepening of faith, and the empowering of sacrificial love?"
Piper goes on to share the difference between worship and appropriate admiration in a balanced and convincing manner. While it is fitting to look up to and admire those that are godly leaders, our worship should always be reserved for the Lord Jesus Himself. You can read the whole article here.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Why "Latino" is Not a Race

In many respects the issue of race has defined the United States more than any other. From the founding of our nation, race has been infused into the country's consciousness as those with dark skin were not afforded the same rights as those with lighter skin. At one point African Americans were defined by our government as 3/5th of a human being and the "drop of blood" doctrine was the law of the land.

If you are not familiar with the "drop of blood" belief, it meant that anyone that had any African heritage was considered black. In other words, if someone was white for all intents and purposes but had a great-grandparent that was of African descent then that individual was also considered black.

Because of this confusing history and complicated definitions, many people today have a difficult time categorizing Latinos (or Hispanics). There are millions of Latinos in America that would be considered white or black based purely on physical appearance but are of neither culture. Since a Latino is one who is of Spanish-speaking descent, they could be white, black or brown in skin tone and in physical features. Therefore, although it is accurate to describe Latinos as a cultural group, it would be incorrect to define them as a race.

Nadra Kareem, by way of the Racialicious blog, has written a thought-provoking article on black Latinos. A highlight:
"What’s behind the confusion? Why is it difficult for people to grasp the concept that one can be both black and Hispanic? I’m sure much of it stems from the idea that all Hispanics are mestizo, or Spanish and Indian. There’s also ignorance about how slave traders brought Africans all over the Americas and not just to the United States. And because many Latin Americans don’t classify citizens by race and black heritage isn’t exactly coveted in the region, some black Latinos may not openly identify as black despite the evidence in their hair texture and skin color. (Cuban Marianne Pearl is a case in point.) Complicating matters is that in film and television, black Hispanics are often cast as African Americans rather than Afro-Latinos, adding to the group’s low-profile."
To read the whole piece click here.

Monday, June 08, 2009

Americans Experiencing God Differently

A new study conducted by respected pollster George Barna indicates that many American Christians are open to expressing their religious beliefs differently than previous generations. Although most Americans define themselves as "religious", an increasing number of people are seeking to experience their faith apart from organized religion and the institutional church.

Barna found that 7 out of 10 people are more likely to develop their own religious beliefs rather than to accept an entire set of beliefs of a particular church.
"Levels of distrust toward churches, church leaders and organized Christianity have been growing over the past two decades. That concern – along with the heightened independence of Americans and the profound access to information that has characterized the past decade – may have led to the emergence of a large majority of adults feeling responsible for their own theological and spiritual development. Other studies have shown an inclination for people to view a local church as a supplier of useful guidance and support, but not necessarily a reliable source of a comprehensive slate of beliefs that they must adopt.

Across the board, the research showed that women are driving these changes. This is particularly significant given prior research from Barna showing that women are more spiritually inclined, are the primary shapers of family faith experiences, and are the backbone of activity in the typical conventional church. Specifically, Barna discovered that women were more likely than men to pursue their faith in a different type of structure or environment (68% of women, 59% of men); to sense that God is motivating people to experience faith in different ways (79% vs. 60%, respectively); and to be willing try a new church (50% vs. 40%)."
To read more about Barna's report click here.

Thursday, June 04, 2009

The "Cast" of Any Good Missions Trip

For any of us that have every participated in a missions trip we know that there are certain personalities that can emerge amongst our team members. Since most missions trips are done in cross-cultural and unfamiliar settings, there are parts of us that bubble up due to the stress that we're experiencing.

Tyler Stanton recently wrote about the essential cast of a great mission trip via the Stuff Christians Like blog. A few of the characters mentioned:
The Culture ExpertThis guy takes advantage of every opportunity to show off the 8 Spanish words he knows. He also thrives on letting you know all the different things you're doing right this second that are offensive to this culture.

The Drama Queen
This girl somehow manages to suffer from diarrhea, heat exhaustion, and a badly sprained ankle before even getting off the bus. The only time she stops complaining about not being able to bring her hair dryer is when she is complaining about how gross the food is. When a friend confides in her about the deep impact this trip is having on him, she rolls her eyes and responds with "you don't even know" and one-ups his experience with one of her own.

The PhotographerThis person holds a deep conviction that capturing action shots of her group is more important than helping provide shelter for Ecuadorian orphans. She manages to go the entire week without picking up a single tool or getting her hands dirty (except for that one time she dropped her lens on the dirt mound).
You can read the whole post here.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Grace Among Ragamuffins

I have been re-reading Brennan's Manning The Ragamuffin Gospel in recent days and have been reminded of the grace that God offers to me that I so often fail to accept or extend to others. It is so easy for me to fall into a performance trap when it comes to how I view myself and the manner in which I interact with those around me. But Manning so eloquently hammers home the point that "we are lovable simply because God loves us."

Although it is human nature to expect judgment when we fail, grace seems to be the better road to true life change. Manning shares the following story that illustrates what a truly gracious community looks like:
"On a sweltering summer night in New Orleans, sixteen recovering alcoholics and drug addicts gather for their weekly AA meeting. Although several members attend other meetings during the week, this is their home group. They have been meeting on Tuesday nights for several years and know each other well. Some talk to each other daily on the telephone; others socialize outside the meetings.
The personal investment in one another’s sobriety is sizable. Nobody fools anybody else. Everyone is there because he or she made a slobbering mess of his or her life and is trying to put the pieces back together. Each meeting is marked by levity and seriousness. Some members are wealthy, others middle class or poor. Some smoke, others don’t. Most drink coffee. Some have graduate degrees, others have not finished high school. For one small hour, the high and the mighty descend and the lowly rise. The result is fellowship.
The meeting opened with the Serenity Prayer followed by a moment of silence. The prologue to Alcoholics Anonymous was read from the Big Book by Harry, followed by the Twelve Steps of the program from Michelle. That night, Jack was the appointed leader.
"The theme I would like to talk about tonight is gratitude," he began, "But if anyone wants to talk about something else, let’s hear it."

Immediately Phil’s hand shot up. "As you know, last week I went up to Pennsylvania to visit family and missed the meeting. You also know I have been sober for seven years. Last Monday I got drunk and stayed drunk for five days."

The only sound in the room was the drip of Mr. Coffee in the corner.

"You all know the buzz word, H.A.L.T., in this program." he continued. "Don’t let yourself get hungry, angry, lonely, or tired or you will be very vulnerable for the first drink. The last three got to me. I unplugged the jug and . . . "

Phil’s voice choked and he lowered his head. I glanced around the table - moist eyes, tears of compassion, soft sobbing the only sound in the room.

"The same thing happened to me, Phil, but I stayed drunk for a year."

"Thank God you’re back."

"Boy, that took a lot of guts."

"Relapse spells relief, Phil," said a substance abuse counselor. "Let’s get together tomorrow and figure out what you needed relief from and why."

"I’m so proud of you."

"Hell, I never made even close to seven years."

As the meeting ended, Phil stood up. He felt a hand on his shoulder, another on his face. Then kisses on his eyes, forehead, neck and cheek. "You old ragamuffin," said Denise. "Let’s go. I’m treating you to a banana split at Tastee Freeze."
It is those that have traveled the road of hardship that are the most likely to understand the pain of others. God's grace is afforded to even those of us that are the lowliest of ragamuffins.

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Should People Use Twitter in Church?

With the popularity of social media increasing by the day it's natural that churches would consider what kind of role these tools can play in ministering to their members and those outside the church walls. A lively discussion is going on now about whether pastors should encourage their congregation to use Twitter during their sermons.

Some feel that the sanctuary of a church is no place to be playing with cell phones during a worship service. Others, on the other hand, think that it is completely appropriate and relevant in ministering to the younger generation. One of the largest churches in the city where I live, Discovery Church in Orlando, has embraced this technology and the pastor encourages members to "tweet" during his messages.

Although not all churches are ready to make the jump to Twittering on Sundays, many are utilizing online social networking:
"In April, interactive marketing firm Sojo, Inc. surveyed 145 churches with memberships between 500 and 25,000 and found that 32 percent of them said they use Facebook, 16 percent are on MySpace and 10 percent are on Twitter, with many more chomping at the bit to sign up for the popular micro-blogging site."
I think most churches that have younger members with younger leadership are more likely to use these forms of communications since it's a more important part of their world. With faith communities comprised mostly of senior citizens it wouldn't make much sense for a pastor to emphasize using these tools much if it is going to alienate their flock.

But for many of the younger generation, the ability to share opinions and receive instant feedback is expected. For example, at our ministry's recent national Impact conference, we invited the conferees on the last night of the conference to share with others what kind of commitments they had made that week (e.g. share their faith more, read their Bible regularly, tutor a child, go a missions trip, etc.) The students were able to text message their commitments so that it would show on the big screen. It was a powerful display to see the various ways that God had spoken to those in attendance.

In a recent article by Diane Mapes on this topic is examined in detail. Several church leaders comment on how they use social media to be effective in their outreach and care for their regular attenders. It is good to see that other Christian leaders are wrestling with how to communicate the unchanging message of the Gospel in the midst of rapidly changing times. Mapes quotes Kim Gregson, assistant professor of the television/radio department at Ithaca College:
"Everybody needs to reach the next generation, to give them a sense of belonging,” she says. "And online is where younger people live. It’s where they get their information, make their social connections, plan their weekends. You have to be there, you have to be in front of them. There’s a realization that if you don’t do these things, you’ll become forgotten."
Whether it is Twitter, Facebook, blogs or other forms of social media, churches that utilize these technologies wisely will continue to be attractive to young people. But they can't leave it there. For all the good that modern technology can do, it will never replace the importance of genuine, face-to-face, authentic community. Churches that learn how to work that balance will be those that effectively reach their communities in the years to come.

Monday, June 01, 2009

My Request for a Season of Celebrity Survivor

I'm watching the premiere episode of this season's version of NBC's "I'm a Celebrity...Get Me Out of Here" and, although the show is slightly entertaining, I have never heard of several of the "celebrities." As an avid fan of the CBS show "Survivor" I'd like to see a season with those that are currently in the spotlight and not past their prime.

And when I say real celebrities I don't mean people that used to be famous. I want to see first-rate, A-list type folks that are popular today. In order to make the show interesting there would need to be some strong personalities, which would make for good T.V. seeing the rich and famous out of their element and forced to compete for food and luxury items.

If I was able to pick any 18 famous people to put on the celebrity season of Survivor, here is who I would go with:

Ann Coulter
Britney Spears
Charles Barkley
Donald Trump
George W. Bush
Halle Berry
Hillary Clinton
Jeff Probst
Michael Jackson
Michael Moore
Oprah Winfrey
Paula Abdul
Rosie O'Donnell
Shaquille O’Neal
Simon Cowell
Terrell Owens
Tom Cruise

Now, tell me, don't you think that would make for interesting television?

Should Pro-Lifers Take the Law Into Our Own Hands?

A Wichita, Kansas doctor that performed late-term abortions was shot and killed yesterday while in church. Understandably, this instance has raised the discussion again about whether the pro-life movement is truly "pro-life." Dr. Albert Mohler weighs in on the murder of Dr. George Tiller:
"...violence in the name of protesting abortion is immoral, unjustified, and horribly harmful to the pro-life cause. Now, the premeditated murder of Dr. George Tiller in the foyer of his church is the headline scandal -- not the abortions he performed and the cause he represented.
We have no right to take the law into our own hands in an act of criminal violence. We are not given the right to take this power into our own hands, for God has granted this power to governing authorities. The horror of abortion cannot be rightly confronted, much less corrected, by means of violence and acts outside the law and lawful means of remedy. This is not merely a legal technicality -- it is a vital test of the morality of the pro-life movement.
The Christian church has been forced by historical necessity to think through these issues again and again. The church has reached a basic moral consensus on issues of violence and governmental obedience, and this consensus requires that Christian citizens work within legal, judicial, and political means to persuade governing authorities concerning what is good, right, just, and honoring to God. Those who operate outside of this consensus and perform acts of violence are rightly understood to abrogate authority to themselves in a way that violates not only the laws of men but the law of God. Civil disobedience may be justified so long as the Christian is willing to suffer at the hands of the governing authorities, but is not justified if the citizen employs violence against the state or against other citizens."
You can read all of Dr. Mohler's complete article here.

(Image courtesy of the Associated Press)