Saturday, November 29, 2008

10 Things I'm Thankful For (That I Can't Admit at Church)

I'm a pastor, and therefore, I must make sure that I look good at all times. Last week was Thanksgiving, and on that day, everyone at the dinner table told of the three things they're most thankful for. I cleared my throat and said that I am most thankful for my wonderful wife, my four children, and my great job. Don't get me wrong, I am very thankful for these things, but if I'm being truly honest, there are other - less dignified - things that I'm thankful for. These are things that I can't mention at church at the risk of looking shallow or possibly even unspiritual - something a pastor must never give hint of. But I think you'll agree that these are things worthy of my thankfulness.

My DVR did I live without this before? With a DVR, I can digitally record all the TV shows I want to watch, and then I can watch them on my own time without ever having to watch a commercial. Now, watching live TV is like crank-starting a car. Archaic, old school, and completely laborious.

And speaking of did I ever watch any TV before the introduction of high definition television (HDTV) into my home? HD is unbelievable, and it makes watching regular TV look like the digital clock in the middle of the night without my glasses: fuzzy, blurred, and headache-causing. If it's not in HD, I probably won't watch it, even if it's something I want to see.

I love Costco. Walking through the front doors is like walking into a party. HDTV's, iPods, computers, DVDs, and books greet you at the entrance, and friendly faces offering you samples of delicious foods await you at the end of every isle. You go in hungry and sensory deprived, and you walk out with a full belly and your senses satisfied!

My iPod
Speaking of a vinyl record collecting teenager, I never - in a million years - dreamt of such an apparatus. I thought heaven had arrived on earth when technology allowed me to burn 20 songs of my choice onto a CD. Never in my wild dreams did I ever think that I could carry my entire library of 4000+ songs (plus 5000+ pictures and 300+ contacts) in my pocket.

My Swamp Cooler
I love living in the Southwest. Lots of sun and little humidity. Because of the lack of humidity, there is little need for air conditioning. Most homes here have swamp coolers that force cool air throughout the house. The reason why I'm thankful for my swamp cooler is because it is the one "machine" in my home that I actually know how to service and repair. It makes sense to me, and because few machines do, my swamp cooler makes me feel like a man. Arggg!

My Hot Air Popcorn Popper
I told you this list would make me look shallow and perhaps unspiritual, but I gotta tell you that I really love my hot air popcorn popper. Not only does it make perfect popcorn, but any time I turn it on, my kids (and my dogs) come running. It's something that unifies us and often ushers in laughter, joking, and happiness in our home.

Where we I be without Tylenol? Where would any of us be? As I get older, more things hurt, and that's why I keep my trusty Tylenol nearby. From my head to my back to my feet...there's nothing that Tylenol can not beat! I think I missed my calling. I should've gone into marketing!

My Heating Blanket
During the cold desert nights, is there anything better than a heating blanket? It keeps me and Michelle nice and toasty, and it quickly removes the threat of her warming her ice cold feet on me.

The Age of My Kids
I remember celebrating the day that all three of our kids were out of diapers. Then came the day when all three could brush their own teeth, bathe themselves, and put on their own clothes. The older they get, the better it gets! Now, it's legal to leave them home alone, and leaving them home alone is what Michelle and I like do! We love the freedom to date-at-will...popping a frozen pizza in the oven for them and heading out to our favorite restaurant.

The View from My Office
Take a look for yourself! It's a miracle that I get any work done at all. I love the fact that God created the mountains, and I love the fact that my office wall that faces them is one huge window. Whenever I need inspiration; whenever I need a break; whenever I need to be reminded of God's majesty and beauty, all I have to do is look out my window. I am truly blessed!

Saturday, November 22, 2008

The Faith of Obama (in His Own Words)

"I'm a Christian. So, I have a deep faith. I'm rooted in the Christian tradition. I believe there are many paths to the same place, and that is a belief that there is a higher power, a belief that we are connected as a people."
Chicago Sun-Times
April 2004

"Jesus is an historical figure for me, and he's also a bridge between God and man, in the Christian faith, and one that I think is powerful precisely because he serves as that means of us reaching something higher. And he's also a wonderful teacher. I think it's important for all of us, of whatever faith, to have teachers in the flesh and also teachers in history."
Chicago Sun-Times
April 2004

"There's the belief, certainly in some quarters, that people haven't embraced Jesus Christ as their personal savior that they're going to hell. I find it hard to believe that my God would consign four-fifths of the world to hell. I can't imagine that my God would allow some little Hindu kid in India who never interacts with the Christian faith to somehow burn for all eternity. That's just not part of my religious makeup."
Chicago Sun-Times
April 2004

"What I believe in is that if I live my life as well as I can, that I will be rewarded. I don't presume to have knowledge of what happens after I die. But I feel very strongly that whether the reward is in the here and now or in the hereafter, the aligning myself to my faith and my values is a good thing. When I tuck in my daughters at night and I feel like I've been a good father to them, and I see in them that I am transferring values that I got from my mother and that they're kind people and that they're honest people, and they're curious people, that's a little piece of heaven."
Chicago Sun-Times
April 2004

"Let's make clear what the facts are: I am a Christian. I have been sworn in with a Bible. I pledge allegiance [to the American flag] and lead the pledge of allegiance sometimes in the United States Senate when I'm presiding."
Times Online
January 2008

"It is a precept of my Christian faith that my redemption comes through Christ, but I am also a big believer in the Golden Rule, which I think is an essential pillar not only of my faith but of my values and my ideals and my experience here on Earth. I've said this before, and I know this raises questions in the minds of some evangelicals. I do not believe that my mother, who never formally embraced Christianity as far as I know…I do not believe she went to hell. My particular set of beliefs may not be perfectly consistent with the beliefs of other Christians."
July 2008

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Tipping with a Tract

Sometimes, I hate being known as a Christian. It's not that I'm ashamed of Christ; I'm just ashamed of some of His followers. We do some pretty stupid things in the name of Christ, and the world is laughing (not with us but at us). Ranking up there as one of the dumber Christian activities is tipping with a tract. This is where Christians leave a cheesy gospel tract along with (or God forbid - in the place of) their tip at a restaurant.

There are several "tipping" tracts that Christians can choose from, but this is one of the more popular ones. It starts off by saying...

Thanks! I wanted to leave this with you to thank you for the good service you gave me. Since we might not meet again will you take a minute to read this? I bought these little cards to help me tell others about the wonderful new life that is possible in Jesus...

Seriously, how many waiters or waitresses have stopped dead in their tracks while busing their tables in order to drop to their knees and give their hearts and lives to Jesus right there in the restaurant because of these tracts? I would venture to say none. One tract-receiving waitress had this to say about Christians who tip with a tract:

As a waitress for many years, I always hated working the Sunday lunch crowd. Not just because I didn't want to miss church, but because Sunday church customers were the worst. Nothing like cranky folks who left no tip, a sucky tip, or a tract with either no tip or a sucky tip.

I remember one rude family in particular. I did everything I could to make sure the large party was happy, but the patriarch left a dollar and a tract (a specially designed one that was just for servers about the 'best tip' ever). I followed them to the door and handed the tract back to them, saying they could save it and use it on someone else, as I was simply waiting tables that morning to help pay for seminary, since I'd been on the mission field for the past two years and had not been able to save much.

I have waited tables with a lot of non Christians. I remember one gal who said that she wondered why Jesus was such a big deal if no one would talk about him, just leave a little piece of paper in old language (King James) that no one could understand.

I agree. If Jesus is as important to us as we say He is - and as important as our tracts say He is - then shouldn't we work hard at building relationships, getting to know people, and loving them (like He would) rather than throwing a corny tract their way and running off?

Jesus is not a product to be sold nor is He an item to be advertised on a cheesy tract left on a messy restaurant table (or worse: in a dirty bathroom stall). Leaving a tract and running off does far more to hurt the cause of Christ than it does to help.

Sniper-like, hit-and-run tract-leaving Christians do more to harm and confuse non-believers than they do to help. It would be best if they'd just mind their own business and keep their tracts at home - or better yet, burn them.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

The Church and the State: Who Should Do What?

On Sunday, I did something I thought I'd never do. I talked about politics from the pulpit. I did it because the Scriptures actually have a lot to say about our current political situation. Regardless of how we voted, the Scriptures make it clear that God is the One who has placed Barack Obama in the position of president-elect. Romans 13:1 says, Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. I was sure that the discussion in the Engage Class would be lively, but the direction it took was not what I expected.

I thought my words about Barack Obama would incite a very lively (and maybe even controversial) discussion, but a set of questions were asked about what the role of the church should be and what the role of the government should be. Are we expecting the government to do too much? Are we expecting them to do things that the church should actually be doing? And with those questions, we were off. We spent the rest of our time talking about this.

The consensus was that the church - in fact - should be doing more, and we seemed to all agree that we should not expect so much from the government, but we really didn't come up with any specific answers. Just a lot of brainstorming and thinking out loud. On Monday, I came across the blog of a friend of mine who is serving as a pastor in Indiana. He has been exploring these same questions with his congregation as well. Here's what one of his bloggers had to say, and I hope that his words can get the conversation going on this blog as well.

You mentioned that we should be voting for the candidate that will most likely bring “up there down here”. I keep mulling that over in my head, and I guess (and maybe it’s semantics), but I guess I just don’t think that that’s the job of government—bringing “up there down here”--and I think that if that’s what we’re counting on we’re going to be sorely disappointed. Instead, I think we should vote for the candidate who will most likely keep order (punish evil-doers), and preserve our basic freedoms (things like life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness), so that we, as the church, will have the ability to keep working on bringing “up there down here”.

What do you think? Who should do what? Are we expecting too much of the government, and do those expectations lead us to view the results of elections with undue jubilation and/or sore disappointment? Is the church doing all that God has called it to do, or is it content to allow the government to handle things?

Let's talk.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Oh, What A Night!

I have to admit that I'm a little bit giddy today. Something happened last night that has me really excited today. I sat up and watched the election coverage on Fox News and CNN for about 4 hours last night. I finally turned the TV off after watching Obama's victory speech, and along with millions of other Americans, I let out a loud cheer accompanied with a powerful double-fist pump as our president-elect's speech came to a conclusion. I was - and still am - really excited about what happened last night.

I woke up this morning with a renewed sense of expectancy and anticipation. Today truly does start a "new day" in our country. There's a new president-elect, several new senators, and the congress will look a lot different in the days to come, but this is not what I'm giddy about.

I'm giddy, overjoyed, and excited not about the results of the election necessarily...but that Obama's victory speech last night marked the end of an incredibly long and annoying election season. Let the prognosticating and predicting end. We now know who won, and now we can move forward. The airwaves will no longer be diseased with politicians spewing their rhetoric, mudslinging, and hollow promises. It's safe again to watch television and listen to the radio without having to worry about being politically accosted.

All skepticism aside (which is hard for me to do), last night was also a good night because not only did the people of the United States speak with their votes...but the Lord of the universe spoke with the results. Romans 13:1 says that all authority comes from God, and those in positions of authority have been placed there by God. What happened last night was not the result of millions of people voting for their favorite candidates, but the result of the God of the universe placing men and women into positions of authority in order to accomplish His purposes.

Yesterday, Michelle and I voted. Then we came home, grabbed some good food and drinks, turned on the television and watched the election results with our kids. It was a party atmosphere in our home. We were not partying because the candidates we voted for were winning. That wasn't the point. Most of them lost. We were partying because we knew that no matter what happened last night, the almighty God of the universe was powerfully and perfectly placing the people He wants into positions of authority. So we watched and went to bed fully confident that what the Lord did last night was good and right.

As I was tucking Taylor and Alexis into bed last night, Taylor said something pretty profound. He is a pray-er, and he regularly prays through a long list of requests that he's accumulated over the years. This list includes lots of family members and friends, but it also includes President Bush. Taylor regularly prays for him. As I was preparing to pray with the two of them before turning out the lights, Taylor said, "I guess I'll have to add Barack Obama to my prayer list." What an incredible statement from a 12 year old! In 1 Timothy 2:2, we're told to pray for the people in authority over us, and Taylor takes that verse very seriously.

Regardless of how you feel about the election, remember that it was God who was in charge of the results. We voted, and He decided! The people that He has placed in authority over us as a result of this election are the people that He wants in those positions to accomplish His purposes. Our task as followers of Christ is to pray for them, so let's follow the lead of my son and take some time to add names like Obama and Biden to our prayer lists.