Watch Aaron in the film Holy Wars

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Thoughts on One Night with the King

Like many of our Christian friends across the country, my wife and I went and saw the film One Night with the King on opening weekend. I have to say that I think it was a good film. I'm saying that not because I am a Christian and that is the politically correct thing to say. I really do think the film was well done. It helps to see the story of Esther on film to really grasp the fact that this orphaned Jewish girl defied an entire empire, not only an empire, but a world wide empire!

Since I am not a film critic (as if that wasn't obvious), I would like to concentrate my thoughts on a passage in the Book of Esther that I have been thinking about a lot lately. After Esther clearly explained to Mordecai the risk of appearing before the king, Mordecai said something to her that is highly relevant for all of us today. Here is what he said.

"Do not think in your heart that you will escape in the king's palace any more than all the other Jews. For if you remain completely silent at this time, then relief and deliverance will arise for the Jews from another place, but you and your father's house will perish. Yet who knows whether you have come to the kingdom for such a time as this?"

I would like to give a few comments on this verse and relate it to the idea of God's sovereignty and man's responsibility in the area of world evangelism. There are three truths I would like to relate this verse to this subject.

1. The danger is real. People really are lost without Christ. "Do not think you will escape..."
2. God is perfectly capable of reaching the lost without my help..."then relief and deliverance will arise from another place..."
3. Although everything will turn out right in the end, if I don't do my part, I'll be judged. "But you and your father's house will perish."

Think about it this way. The Bible teaches that in the end, everything will turn out exactly the way things are supposed to be (see I Corinthians 15:28). Let me ask all my preacher friends a question-How would your life change if you realized that in the end everything will turn out right regardless of what you do? I mean "everything" in the ultimate sense at the end of history. What theologians call "the consummation" is a fancy way of saying "What God wants, God gets". I'm not giving a license for laziness here. I know things will turn out all right for God in the end, it's myself that I think I should be concerned about.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Why I would be a Quaker

Here's a little test. What do you think of when you hear the word "Quaker"? Perhaps you picture a jolly white haired man in front of an oatmeal box or you think of someone driving a buggy (actually that is Amish). The word "pacifist" might come to mind since Quakers do not fight in wars. You may even think of the term "holy roller" and you would be right, since the original Quakers (who referred to themselves as "friends") were given their name as a derogatory term because they would "Quake" under the power of the Holy Spirit (sound familiar Pentecostals?).

Let me give you a few other words to add to your database- womens' rights, prison reform, abolition of slavery, democracy, religious freedom, equality-all of these words should be the first to come into your mind when you hear the word "Quaker" because the Quakers were the people that pioneered these concepts for the human race.

Earlier this year I read the book Uncle Tom's Cabin. In the story (which takes place in the 1850's), author Harriet Beecher Stowe describes the Quakers as those who were helping Negro slaves escape to freedom. In a time of hatred and oppression, that is remarkable in and of itself. But what is even more remarkable is that the Quakers would allow the "Negroes" to eat with them as if they were their equals. Shocking! Where did these crazy holy rollers get such a revolutionary idea? After all, even Thomas Jefferson didn't exactly have black people in mind when he penned the words, "We hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal."

I'll tell you where they got the idea. They got it from the Bible. They had the audacity to believe a tiny little verse in the gospel of John which says that Christ is the "true light which lighteth every man coming into the world"(John 1:9). Quakers believed that since every human being has the light of Christ within (they used the term "inner light"), then every human being is equal in value. The theological term for this idea is prevenient grace, and it is a beautiful concept. Quakers believed that the inner light in every human being can be accepted or rejected, but never ignored. Instead of seeing the world as "us" verses "them", they saw each human being as a bearer of the Christ image, regardless of how the individual may or may not have responded to the light.

I would like to believe that if I were living in the 1850's in North America, that I would be affirming the equality of negro slaves by inviting them to dine with me in my home. I would like to think that I would have stood up for them and thrown all of my energies into fulfilling the Biblical mandate to "set the captives free". But, deep down, I don't really know if that would have been me. Perhaps I would have swallowed the conventional theology of the day which said that slavery was a God-ordained institution. If I wanted to justify it, I could have twisted many verses of the Bible to justify white superiority. I hope that my heart would have made it hard for me to do that. I hope that I would have been like the Quakers who believed that every human being they met was a child of God equal in dignity and value. Hope is the key word. Perhaps I should rename this post "Why I wish I would have been a Quaker."

Wishful thinking may be nice, but it is never really helpful in the long run. Perhaps a better question is this- what needs to change in my thinking today to make into the kind of person that would have done what the Quakers did yesterday? I'm going to make a bold statement here. Please don't burn me at the stake. Here goes. If my current theology does not produce in me a goodness to the degree of 19th century Quakers, then whatever theological concept that is preventing this from happening needs to be flushed down the toilet.

Friday, October 27, 2006

The gospel of condemnation

This post was written on August 24th, 2006

I was watching Prime Time last night and they did a segment on twins at war in the womb. They showed the story of a young woman and her husband who were expecting identical twins. Everything was going well until the mother sensed she was having problems. It turned out in the ultrasound that one of the fetuses was stealing blood from the other fetus. In order to correct the situation, the doctors performed a surgery, but to no avail. The couple was then faced with a heart-wrenching choice. Should they abort one baby and save the other or should they risk losing both children by doing nothing?

Understandably, both parents were in agony over the decision. How could they choose one child over the other? At the same time, how could they risk losing both lives when they could save one? The father, evidently God-conscious, prayed that God would make the decision for him. The next day, one of the babies died. He never had to make that decision. After the other baby was born, it died a few days later.

Not only did my heart go out to this couple, this indicident also gave me an opportunity for a little moral reflection. What could this couple have done? I imagine if they had chosen to abort one of the fetuses to save the other, some in the Christian right would have screamed bloody murder. But then, what about the other side? I imagine that some on the far left would have practically accused them of double homicide if they had made a conscious choice not to abort one baby to save the other. The far left would have accused them of sacrificing both of their babies at the altar of their moral convictions.

And then I imagine there are some Christians who would say that if the young couple would have had enough faith, then God would have healed both babies. They take the wonderful Scriptures that inspire faith for miracles and then turn them around to bash the heads of those who seem unable to put their faith muscles to work.

What is my point in all this? My point is that in our search for moral and spiritual absolutes, we can easily miss the heart of Jesus who came "not to condemn the world, but to save the world." We also forget that, according to Jesus, mercy is one of the "weightier matters of the law." As long as we are on this side of eternity, life will not only be filled with black and white decisions, but every shade of grey in between. Somehow, I think God understands this much better than we humans who are ever too eager to assert our moral superiority over others.

The gospel of salvation can easily become the gospel of condemnation on both sides of the current culture war. The good news is that Jesus died and rose again to give this couple the hope that they will one day see both their babies again. It's about time we Christians drop our superiority complexes and start pointing people to the good news.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Your sins are forgiven

This post was written on August 4,2006 Read carefully. This article has broad implications

As promised, I said that I would be writing posts over the next month about the nature of the gospel and its relationship to today's society. It would be helpful to start with one simple question. What is the gospel? We know that the word "gospel" means "good news", but what precisely is this "good news" that Christians are supposed to share with the world?

I remember one day in Bible School when a woman named Sally Green suggested to my School of Missions class that the message we are suppose to share with the world is "Your sins are forgiven!" I remember that almost as soon as these words left her mouth, most of the class immediately turned against her. The common objection was, "What about the need to repent? Don't people need to be made to feel like they are sinners first? What about hell, wrath, and judgement?"

All of these are good questions, but they betray a basic misunderstanding regarding the gospel. The way most people understand the gospel is, "Repent so that your sins can be forgiven." Although this sounds Biblical, the truth is actually the other way around. The true gospel is, "Repent because you have been forgiven."

Don't take my word for it though. The Apostle Paul is a far better guide on these matters than I am. Let's hear what he has to say about what precisely is the message of the gospel.

"Now all things are of God, who has reconciled us to Himself through Jesus Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation, that is, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not imputing their trespasses against them, and has committed to us the word of reconciliation. Now then, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were pleading through us: we implore you on Christ's behalf, be reconciled to God. For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him" (2 Corinthians 5:18-21)

According to the Apostle Paul, the message of the gospel is, "God is not counting your sins against you. He has reconciled you to Himself. So, therefore, repent and be reconciled to God." Remember that Jesus Himself said that His message to the world is, "To proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord." (Luke 4:19)

Think also about the parable that Jesus gave to Simon, one of the religious leaders of His day. Jesus said, "There was a certain creditor who had two debtors. One owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. And when they had nothing with which to repay, he freely forgave them both. Tell Me, therefore, which of them will love him more?" (Luke 7:41-42)

Notice that Jesus said the man freely forgave the two debtors. Jesus then asks the question of which man will love more in return, the man who owed little or the man who owed much? You see, when God forgives, He forgives freely. His call to repent and to be reconciled to Him is in light of the fact that He has already freely forgiven you. Remember that Jesus did not ask the woman who was caught in the act of adultery to tell Him that she was sorry and that she would never do it again before He forgave her. He simply told her, "Neither do I condemn you. Go and sin no more." (John 8:11) Notice that Jesus forgave her first, and then He told her to repent. That is how it is suppose to be.

Bottom line: Sally Green was right. The gospel is in fact, "Your sins have been forgiven!" In light of this, God is now calling men and women everywhere to repent, believe the good news, and enter into a wonderful new relationship with Him based on love, grace, and truth. Now that's good news!

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Casual Christianity-should we really boast about this?

Tonight at the NGA conference, there was a room called "The Cave" where they had the Stations of the Cross. I remember this way back when I was 6 and 7 years old in Catholic school and they taught us about the stations of the cross (After the second grade, my parents left the catholic church and raised me in an independent charismatic church). I find it very refreshing that in an evangelical protestant conference for evangelists, there is an appreciation for the contributions of other branches of Christianity. I think this is part of a larger trend within evangelicalism of rediscovering the older historic traditions of the Christian faith. Growing up in the charismatic movement which prided itself in casualness, I've found that lately I've had a deep hunger to experience Christ in quiet reflection through art and beauty. I have to admit, I feel much closer to God in a Catholic cathedral staring up at the beautiful artwork portraying the life of Christ than I do in a crowded church clapping hands and shouting praises. Maybe that's just me. I realize that both are necessary. I am glad there are different expressions of worship within the Body of Christ. In traveling around the world, I have come to realize that Christianity has a built in adaptability factor in adjusting to different times and places.

Sometimes I feel , however, that in the current " Christian youth movement" that emphasizes punk rock, hip hop, and battle imagery, the art of reverence for God is often lost. I can even remember mosh pits during the praise and worship service in the youth group I was raised in. Often the mentality is that since kids like to rock and roll, why can't we get them to rock and roll for Jesus? That'll bring them in! Church has to be "cool". Don't get me wrong. I am not opposed to Christian rock music, punk music, metal music....or any other kind of music that is dubbed "hip" by today's young people. I'm just wondering if we are losing something in our search to be "cool" or "non religious" (a charismatic buzzword). I've been wondering lately if the charismatic pride for casualness that I grew up with is really something worth boasting about.

Maybe I'm just an old man trapped in a 28 year-old's body, but I would love to hear choral arrangements of classic hymns such as "Softly and Tenderly" "It is Well" and "There is a Fountain" sung in church or...God forbid... an evangelistic event. Can anyone else relate to this or am I just weird?

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

NGA Conference-a prodigal comes home

Tonight was the first session of the Next Generation Alliance Conference with Louis Palau Evangelistic Association. We are here to learn and to network with other evangelists that are shaking the world for Christ. I feel like I am in a Who's Who gathering of preachers. The atmosphere is very warm and encouraging. There is a sense that we are all in this together. Louis Palau spoke about how although we are living in frightening times, God is every bit as excited about the task of the Great Commission as He has always been. Palau spoke with passion, humor and grace while warning the proud and encouraging the discouraged at the same time.

One of the most touching moments was when Louis's son Andrew spoke about how, although he was raised in a godly home, he had rebelled for the first 27 years of his life against anything and everything to do with Christ. Although his father would gently and lovingly encourage him to follow Christ, he continued in his rebellious ways. He drank, did drugs, got involved in bad relationships...just about everything the prodigal son did. I am sure there were a lot of people who probably looked down on Louis at that time because of his rebellious son, but would that have been fair? According to Louis, we all have our own decisions to make about our relationship with God. I am thankful that Andrew Palau eventually made the right decision.

The cost of vengeance-The Prestige

Rhiannon and I went to see the movie The Prestige yesterday and, I have to say, I think it is a great film. With enough twists and turns to make your head spin, the film also teaches a valuable lesson about the cost of vengeance. Without giving too much away, the story is about two rival magicians who develop a feud that ends up costing them everything. Given what is happening in the Middle East and in various other regions around the world, I think the world can learn a lesson from these two dueling magicians. As all who watch this film will see, bitterness really does poison the soul.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Signless in Seattle

For all of you who love frustration, I have a little excercise for you that may give you your frustration fix. Go to Seattle Washington and park in the public parking directly across from the famous Seattle Space Needle. Park your car and walk around for a while so that your body and your mind is not as alert as it normally is. Upon leaving the parking lot, follow the sign to lead you back to Interstate 5, which is the only highway that will take you where you need to go. You will notice the blue Interstate 5 sign with an arrow pointing straight ahead, but when you follow it, you will soon discover that the sign leads you to nowhere. If there is a sign to tell you to turn right, then it is invisible and only seen through the eye of faith. When you finally see another sign that says Interstate 5 and the arrow is slanted to the right and you can not tell if it is telling you to go straight or to go right, go straight because if you go right, you will just have to turn back around.

Another piece of advice, if you are looking for The Champions Center (a church pastored by Kevin Gerald) and you are on U.S. Pacific Hwy E and you cross the bridge looking for Portland Avenue, take the first stoplight and go left. Don't expect to see a sign because there isn't one.

Do I sound a little frustrated? Okay, I'll admit it. I am. Of course, there is always the possibility that I might be a little nimwitted when it comes to the road, but for the love of everything sacred and holy, shouldn't it be a little easier to find where I am going in this frustrating, but beautiful city?

Now that I think about it. I wonder how non-Christians feel when they are looking for answers from their Christian friends? Or better yet-I wonder what kind of signs that I have been giving lately? If Christ lives in me and I represent Him, shoudn't those seeking spiritual truth have the right to expect me to give clear directions? As the Apostle Paul said, "If a trumpet makes an uncertain sound, who will prepare for battle?" I think it is fair to ask myself what kind of signs I have been giving to those around me. I have a feeling I'm not the only one who needs to be asking this question.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Touched by a deaf man

Okay, so I lied. I said I wouldn't post today, but I'm posting anyway. The hotel here in Portland, Oregon actually has wi-fi. Logging onto the internet from my laptob in a hotel is actually a new experience for me. It looks like I've finally joined the 21st century!

We actually had to fly from St. Louis to Atlanta and then Atlanta to Portland. How out of the way is that! Can you imagine if we actually drove this route? People would think we were crazy. Air travel can be so peculiar.

I did want to mention a feature I saw on the ABC Morning show for Delta Horizons. I saw a story about an African American man who was deaf and mute and was born with polio. For the first six years of his life, he could not walk. After his mother sent him away to a special school for the handicapped, he eventually learned to walk. When he became an adult, he got a job washing cars at a Honda dealership and has worked there for 20 years only missing three days.

What was so touching about the program was the man's enthusiasm for his job. He loved washing cars. His enthusiasm and love for life was so incredible that he merited the attention of a prime time news channel. And, by the way, he was not mentally handicapped as far as I could tell. He just loved washing cars and brightening people's days. Watching the program reminded me of the Scripture, "Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ".

In true Christianity, there should be no division between the sacred and the secular. Whether you are standing in front of multitudes preaching the gospel or fixing leaky faucets, if your attitude is that you are doing your job to glorify God, what a difference you can make!

There really aren't very many words that I can say but that this man deeply touched my heart. I saw Christ in him and I don't even know if he is a Christian. I think we all need a reminder from time to time about the beauty of serving Christ in the simplicity of life.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Talk amongst yourselves!

After months of moderating comments, I have decided to turn off my comment moderation feature at least for the moment. I will be out of town for the next few weeks, but will attempt to continue posting depending on my internet access.

Since I will definitely not be posting tomorrow, I have decided to give you, my readers a topic to discuss.

Here is the question: What are the implications of the Big Bang theory in the origins debate?


Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Clarification on government imposed morality

I want to clarify something I wrote in my post on government and morality. When I say that it is the government's job to impose morality on its citizens, I mean it to the extent of the government's obligation to protect human life and secure basic human rights for all (moral judgments I believe the government does have a right to impose on its citizens) So, if a government rules over a people where the majority or minority of the people believe in ethnic cleansing or killing religious apostates, then the government not only has the right, but the duty (according to the New Testament perspective on the role of government) to secure the right to life and religious freedom for all of its citizens, even if the majority of the people do not want these rights and liberties. This is why I can say that, once a politician recognizes a fetus as an authentic human being, he or she has the obligation to defend that life, howbeit through means which are consistent with the government in place.

When it comes to moral judgments outside of the realm of protecting its citizens and securing basic human liberties, then I agree that these kinds of judgments should reflect the will of the people. Although I do not believe in total democracy (where everyone votes on everything), I do believe that in a representative government (a republic), people have a right to vote for politicians that reflect their moral views-and moral views should not be a priori excluded just because they come from religious conviction.

Bottom line: there are sane limits to the idea that the government should not impose its morality on unwilling citizens. When it comes to protecting human life and securing basic liberties, all governments should strive for these things regardless of what the people want.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Geeks of the world unite!

This one's for you Sherry.

Yesterday, my wife and I had lunch with my longtime friend and mentor, Jack Harris along with his wife Sherry. During the course of the conversation, Jack suggested that I begin speaking to youth groups (something I already had in mind to do). The next thing he said was rather humorous. He said that he, himself, being a whopping 52 years old was a little too old for the job. The news came as a surprise to me. I can remember being 16 years old when Jack rode into my youth group's worship service with his long hair, goatee, and Harley Davidson. All he had to do was tell one story of casting out a demon in India and all of us youngsters would hang on his every word. Jack is the kind of guy who, somehow you suspect, that if he wasn't a born again Christian engaged in evangelizing the planet, he would probably be a Godfather. Jack is the king of cool whether he knows it or not. My suspicion is that he probably knows it, but his inner humility keeps him from admitting it to himself.

And then there's me. Although, growing up, I always wanted to be cool; I've always been more like Clay Aiken than Marlon Brando (Okay, I'll admit it. I actually do sing in the shower imagining myself trying out for American Idol) In grade school and junior high, I was the brainy kid in school. Of course, since my class was only 10-15 people, that wasn't saying much. It wasn't until I went to a public high school and started taking honors classes that I realized that I was the smartest of the dumb and the dumbest of the smart. Great! I'm neither brains nor brawns, how uncool is that!

After years of frustration, I finally figured out that I should probably just go with my geek self. Allow me to let my readers in on a little secret-there are far more of us than there are of them! Shh.....tell only who you must....we wouldn't want the cool people of the world to find out our secret plot to overthrow them...geeks of the world unite!

As enticing as that may sound, we geeks know that will never happen. Now that I think about it, I'm kind of glad that could never happen. I don't know about you, but I'm glad that God made all kinds of people in this world. After all, what would the world look like if we were all the same? The good news of the gospel is that God invites the Screeches and Napolean Dynamites to the same table as the Donald Trumps and the John Waynes. The beauty of the Church is that it is filled with all different kinds of people set free by the love of Christ. Whether you are a geek or a stud, a professor or the town idiot, there's room at the table for you. God invites you and me to His table not on the basis of who we are, but on the basis of who He is. What the world needs more than anything is unconditional love- and this is exactly what God has given us in Christ. If you've never come to the table, it's time to "Taste and see that the Lord is good" What are you waiting for? The clock is ticking....I hope to see you there.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

reason, theocracy, pluralism, and government

Since I am leaving for a meeting in a half hour, I am going to see if I can tackle the monumentous question that my friend Toby asked regarding the duty of government (or government leaders) to impose their morality on a people living in a pluralistic society. In layman's terms, "What right does congress, or the president have to impose their views on the rest of society that either agrees or disagrees with them?" Wow! Now that's a whopper!

First of all, I would say that in a Republic, it is the people that give the government leaders the right to make moral judgments that reflect the values of the people who vote them into office. We are not a democracy in the sense that every person votes on every issue. And thank God we are not! I don't know about you, but I don't want people who know nothing about economics or international relations deciding whether to cut taxes or invade a nation. In a Republic, the people elect leaders who, although they reflect their values, are judged as more capable than the average Joe in making decisions that affect the rest of society.

This brings us to a good question. Should decisions be made based on religious conviction? The ACLU would say No Way Jose and scream the words Theocracy!!!!!! at such a suggestion. But wait a second here. If by theocracy, it is meant that the laws of the land should be word for word the same as the Law of Moses given to the children of Israel in the Old Testament (or the Koran or any other religious document), then, yes, that would be a theocracy. And there are a few people who want that. They are called Reconstructionists. The problem with this view is that it fails to appreciate the uniqueness of the people of Israel in the Old Testament. The fact is that no other nation or political entity since the days of Moses can claim a direct covenant with God in the same sense that the children of Israel could claim in the Old Testament (and..yes..I do include the United States of America in that...unlike many who believe that America is God's equivalent to Old Testament Israel....what an arrogant claim!!!)

The question is, is this what most evangelical Christians want? The answer is no!!! Even Pat Robertson has said in interviews that he does not want a theocracy. To say that religious beliefs can "inform" the conscience of government is a far cry from saying that it should "impose" its views on society. If we live in a Republic where people elect men and women into office to reflect their values, why should religious values be a priori excluded? Let me put this another way, if President George W. Bush, or any other president, attempts to fight against human sex trafficking because it goes against his or her religious conviction, why should that be invalidated simply because it stems from religious conviction? The fact is: the government does have the right to impose morality on its citizens. That is the government's job.

If we look at the issue from a New Testament perspective, Jesus did in fact do away with theocracy. Jesus said, "My kingdom is not of this world." Jesus had no interest in creating a political kingdom to take over the world. He was interested in creating an institution called the Church that would be transformed from within and, through their moral influence would have an impact on society. Concepts such as "inalieable rights" just happen to be a byproduct of the values that Jesus introduced to the world.

As far as political government, the only definitive chapter on the subject in the New Testament is Romans chapter 13 where Paul clearly sees the role of government as "punishing evildoers". In other words, according to the Apostle Paul, the role of government is to provide protection for its citizens. This protection can take on many forms, but ultimately, government can not create a utopia, it can only curb evil. Such a view is realistic in light of fallen human nature.

Bottom line: Government must protect human beings. The Bible gives guidelines on how to make this happen, but does not tell us everything we need to know. Intrinsic to Christianity is the belief in reason and progress (even among unbelievers since they too are created in the image of God) The Bible is progressive revelation so we can not look at the Law of Moses and apply it tit for tat for today. Everything must be judged by the standard of Jesus Christ. In my view, the Church is to "inform" the conscience on society, not "impose" its values on society. Society will conform to the extent that the gospel has penetrated the hearts of the people. It may come as a surprise to many to hear me say this, but I believe that seperation of church and state is a profoundly Christian idea. I don't know about you, but I don't want to go back to branding adulteresses with scarlet A's.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Rewriting birth certificates

I must admit that I was planning on writing either about Pascal's Wager or the Big Bang theory today, but decided against it because I have a treasure on my heart that I can't wait to share with my readers. So, I guess I'll have to pretend to be an intellectual in another post (hint next week's posts). As most of you know, Rhiannon and I have been married for more than 5 years now (October 6th was our 5-year mark) and have experienced multiple early miscarriages. This is one of the reasons why the film Facing the Giants struck such a deep chord in us. We could really empathize with the characters. Although we continue to believe that we will have biological children, we have come to grips with the fact that the children we raise may not be our birth children.

It's interesting how God uses life experiences to teach us more about His wonderful plan for us. As an evangelist, I am always looking for more ways to appreciate and communicate the gospel. Had we never had problems conceiving, I may have missed out on one of the most profound truths relating to how God views those who are in Christ, and that is the metaphor of adoption. I had this thought as I was taking my daily power walk the other day (at least that is one good thing I get from these walks-a time to think. It sure hasn't helped with my waistline yet). I thought to myself about how when I adopt a child, the child will then belong to me. I began to think to myself "What would it take for me to disinherit my own child whom I have chosen to belong to me?" If little Johnny or Joe comes into my house and starts misbehaving, will I as a parent say "Well Johnny, you can say buh bye now (notice the Saturday Night Live spelling). We no longer want you in our family." I think I would be a rather awful parent if that were the case.

I then began to think to myself "How does God think about me? If I am adopted into His family, what would it take for Him to disinherit me?" Without getting into a discussion about whether it is possible or not for God's children to be disinherited (aka...lose their salvation), I can imagine that if it would take an awful lot for me as a human parent to drive me to that point, what would I saying about God if I believed that He disinherits His children easier than I would disinherit my own children? It's a good question to think about. Keep in mind this does not say that my future children might not choose to disinherit me someday; only that it would be difficult for me as a parent to disinherit my own children-especially ones that I have adopted.

Perhaps the most powerful analogy that I might not have ever known is this. In the State of Missouri, when a child in the foster care system is adopted, the government issues them a new birth certificate with the names of the adoptive parents on it. I don't know about you, but that speaks volumes to me. When I place my faith in Christ, God writes me a new birth certificate and puts His name on it as the Father! This means that when I experience the "new birth" that Jesus talked about, not only am I changed on the inside, but I now have a new standing with God. Theologically speaking, based on Romans chapter 5, you could say that all of us had Adam as our spiritual father before we were born again. But when Christ died on the cross for us, God gave us a new birth certificate! When you and I receive our new birth certificate by faith (not of works) we become adopted into His family. I can only imagine what it would be like if I were an abused and neglected child, written off by society, and then, all of the sudden a king offers to adopt me and write his name on my birth certificate. This is, in fact, God's offer of salvation for anybody and everybody. Knowing this, I can't imagine why anyone would want to refuse the offer! It almost sounds too good to be true, but it isn't! For the love of God, I want to shout to the world-take the deal!

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

The not -so -famous words of Jesus

In former times, the most famous Bible verse was John 3:16. We all know it. "For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whosever believeth in Him shall not perish, but have everlasting life." Can you guess what are considered the most famous words of Jesus in our postmodern society? I don't have statistics to prove this, but I imagine Matthew 7:1 takes the prize. "Judge not lest you be judged." Whereas in former times, it was axiomatic that moral judgments are a part of every day life, now it is not so obvious to everyone. One spokeswoman for the "pro-choice" cause, in debating with talk show host Bill O Reilly tried to explain how abortions were essential for women's health. O' Reilly responded that he knew of many women (perhaps the majority) that aborted for the sake of convenience. When he asked if she could acknowledge that fact, the woman gave the standard "I think you are being judgmental" response. Never mind the fact that the woman did not answer his question. Nowadays all someone has to say is "judge not lest you be judged" to preclude further argument.

The problem with the "don't be judgmental" argument is that it is not really an argument at all. You can not say that something is wrong (aka-being judgmental) and then say it is wrong to say there is a wrong. The not-so-famous words of Jesus clears this up rather well. In John 7:24, Jesus said, "Do not judge according to appearance, but judge with righteous judgment." So, according to scripture, we are to make moral judgments. So when former presidential candidate John Kerry says he believes that life starts at conception, but favors partial birth abortion and gives his reason for the contradiction by saying that personal beliefs should not be imposed on society, it shouldn't take a genius to say that argument is bogus! Unfortunately, the inconsistency of the argument seems to fly over a lot of heads today.

Clearly, we are to make judgments without being judgmental. The Bible says, "Let him who thinks he stands, take heed, lest he fall." Pride is clearly a sin. Oops! There I go making judgments again.

Trash truck woes-a horrific sight

As I am writing this post, I am secretly praying that there is someone out there who can relate to this. You see, I have a ritual every Wednesday morning. It's not a planned ritual, but a ritual nonetheless. I am always in my pajamas, usually in the process of eating breakfast, with my hair uncombed, and looking like I just got out of bed because I really have just gotten out of bed. I am minding my own business preparing to go about my merry day-and then my wife hears the sound of the trash truck. For some reason, I never hear it first. It is always my wife who hears it.

And so I run half-crazed from my living room to the bedroom knocking over things in the process. I always first contemplate putting on my slippers, since they are always by my bed and my bed is closer than the closet, but then I remember that my driveway is nothing but rocks and I tell myself that is not a good idea. I then run to the closet and throw on my sandals and run outside in my pajamas (or boxers depending on the time of the year) and drag the green trash bin to the end of the driveway. I pity the neighbors for having to see this sight. It really is a sorry sight. But it happens every single Wednesday morning like clockwork. Sometimes I make it. Sometimes I don't.

I'm not sure if there is a spiritual message in this, but if there is one, I'd sure like to know about it. I thought about relating this to the story of the parable of the 10 virgins preparing to meet the bridegroom, but it didn't seem quite appropriate since the trash truck will be back next week so the opportunity isn't lost forever. Comparing Jesus to a trash truck also seems a bit odd to me. So I am asking you, my blogging friends to give me suggestions if there are any spiritual principles that can be applied to this story that I could use in a future sermon. I feel it is only good and right to seek to find something good out of this since I am already committing a crime against humanity by forcing my neighbors on a weekly basis to see an image that no human being should ever have to see. Please help. I'm seeking a little redemption here.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Catching Predators

Unless you live in a cave, if you are a U.S. citizen, you have probably heard of the Dateline series To Catch a Predator. Last Friday, after running errands all day, I wanted to relax, so I turned it on. At first, all I could feel was delight as sexual predators were getting what they deserved. It is almost impossible to watch the program without putting yourself in the predator's shoes. Here a respectable man in the community with a wife and children shows up to a house thinking he is going to have sex with a 13 year old girl only to discover the operation was a sting. Now the whole country gets to watch the guy squirm in his pants as his dirty little secret is revealed. If that is not enough, just when the guy thinks he is off the hook,there is a swarm of cops waiting for him before he leaves the garage (the garage part is no doubt for cinematic effect).

The reaction is ever so typical of those who are caught with their pants down-please turn the camera off! Most of the men tried to justify themselves, saying they had no intention of doing anything or tried to say that they didn't know the girl was 13. This is understandable. Wouldn't you or I do the same thing? The host of the program then pulls out sexually explicit e-mails written by the men revealing that they actually did know the girl (who turned out to be a undercover investigator) was 13 and that they actually intended to do what they said they had no intention of doing.

Let me preface what I am about to say with this. In no way do I believe any of the men on the program were innocent. In every way, I believe those who take advantage of preteens and adolescents should be prosecuted to the full extent of the law. I do not want to see young boys and girls preyed upon any more than anyone else. Neither do I think that it is wrong to trap sexual predators with sting operations. I know you can sense that there is a "but" coming, and there is. The question must be asked, does the show go too far in tempting vulnerable men to do what they would otherwise not do? If so, is that moral?

It is one thing to set up a sting operation for those who are actively seeking young adolescents to prey upon. It is quite another to tempt someone to sin and then shame them in front of the entire country. In one instance, one of the men wrote to the "13 year old" that he was afraid and didn't think he should go through with it. The "13 year old" then wrote back "What are you-chicken?" I don't know about you, but that sounds an awful lot like the word "temptation" to me. Temptation is something that the devil does, not God. The Bible teaches that God does not tempt anyone to sin. If God does not do it, then is it moral for man to do it? If you answer yes to the question, then a further question must be asked. To what degree should people be tempted for the purpose of prosecution? Should the sex police jam 40 year old men's e-mail addresses with child pornography and then show up at their doors when a few of them download the photos into their hard drives? Where does it stop?

In asking these questions, I am not proposing that I have the answers. I do not. But I think the questions should still be asked. In our efforts to catch predators, we can easily become predators ourselves if we are not careful. As someone once said, the road to hell is paved with good intentions.

Monday, October 09, 2006

The way things should be

I couldn't resist posting this story. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did when I read it.

The World it is a Changin'

The wife and I left Modesto, California headed to Brunswick, Georgia to start a new job I had taken several weeks earlier. As finances were tight, we sold what little we had accumulated, over the past five years, in order to make the three-thousand mile trip. With only about two-hundred dollars in pocket there would be no fancy meals and maybe, just maybe, one night at a motel to take a shower and get a good nights sleep. The remainder of the time it would be a cheap burger at McDonalds and sleeping in the small car.

Though tired, it always seemed to perk me up, just a bit, as we left state after state behind. When boredom set in I would turn on the C.B. Radio and listen to the truckers yell and scream at one another. When the language would get a little course I would reach over and turn off the radio. About half way through Texas I reached over to turn off the radio when I heard "Is there anyone out there kind enough to help us?"

"Get off the trucker's channel, idiot," yelled a truck driver.

I reached over, picked up the microphone and said, "What do you need?"

"We are stranded at mile marker 576, east-bound side," said a man.

I watched for the next mile marker sign, which read 574.

"I'm at 574 east-bound. What do you need?"

"Can you two idiots get off the trucker's channel?" Said the trucker again.

I got no reply from the stranded man.

As I reached mile marker 576 there stood a black man, beside an old brown van. I pulled up behind his vehicle, got out and walked toward him. As I passed the van I looked in and noticed about five elderly people.

"What's the problem?" I asked.

"Not sure. I can't find my wallet. I think I left it in the washroom at a restaurant about thirty miles back," he told me.

"What do you need?" I asked.

"You got any extra gas?"

"Just a minute," I said, as I turned and walked back to my car. I explained the situation to my wife.

"Dad, we got just enough money to get us to Georgia, maybe. We can't afford to help anyone else," she replied.

"I can't just leave them stranded."

"Do what you got to do, hon," she said, shaking her head.

I walked back to the van, pulled out my wallet and handed the man twenty dollars.

"You follow us back to the restaurant and I'll give you the money back," said the man.

"I can't afford to go backwards, I just can't," I told him.

He took my name and new address and promised to send me the money when he reached his home in Jackson, Mississippi.

I followed them to the next gas station and waved as they pulled up to the pump. Then we drove back onto the freeway and continued our journey.

"Are we going to make it, Dad?"

"I don't know," I said, biting my bottom lip.

Leaving Texas we had about sixty dollars in pocket. We knew there would be no bath and good nights rest at a motel.

As we continued through Louisiana the traffic became heavy. All at once my wife screamed. When I looked up I saw furniture falling off a pickup truck driving in front of us. I swerved to the right, as quickly as possible, but still ran over something. I got out of my car and walked to the front to see what damage had been caused. Beneath the car was a small stereo system. It had cut through my right tire, which was now flat. I walked to the trunk to get my jack and spare tire. I was shocked to see that it was also flat. Generally I check and recheck everything before a trip.

As I walked back to the front of my car I saw the pickup truck had reloaded what could be salvaged and that the man was getting back into his vehicle. I knew he saw our flat tire, but nevertheless he drove away.

The wife and I sat on the side of the road for several hours waiting for the police. It was almost dark when they finally arrived. The police advised us that there was nothing they could do, other than call a tow truck. We knew we could not afford to pay for such a service.

After the police left we sat in the car wondering what to do.

"HONK, HONK" went the sound of a horn.

When I turned around to see what was happening; there was that same brown van which we had given gas money.

"Well, I see we aren't the only ones having a little bad luck today," said the man, leaning into my window.

"No spare," I told him.

Well, can't fix the problem sitting there," he said.

He reached over, took my keys out of the ignition, walked to the trunk of the car and took out the jack. I watched him jack up the car and take off the flat. I didn't know what to say and was too embarrassed to tell him that we did not have enough money to buy a new tire and still have enough gas to make it to Georgia.

After he took off the tire he looked at me and said "Go sit in the car and I'll be right back."

I got into the car and watch them drive away.

"How we going to pay them, Dad?"

"I don't know. We'll just pay them for the tire and the repair to the flat."

"What we going to do for gas?"

"I don't know. I just don't know." I said, almost on the verge of screaming.

The van returned an hour later. I got out of the car noticing that both tires were brand new.

"I'm sorry, but I should have told you. I don't have enough money to pay for two tires."

The man said not a word as he placed the tire on the car. He acted as though he did not hear me.

"I'm sorry but I..."

"I heard you the first time," he said.

When the tire was complete he placed the jack and new spare in the trunk and closed it.

Follow us to the gas station," he ordered, like an army sergeant.

We followed them to the next off ramp and into the gas station. He got out of his van and began filling our tank. When done he walked up to the window and said "I'm hungry, lets eat." I looked at the wife who was now speechless, for the first time in her life.

We followed them to a restaurant several blocks down the road. As we got out of the car I looked at him and said, "Thank you for your help but I cannot accept anymore."

The man said not a words. He turned and walked back to his van. He opened the side door and took out a large wooden chair. Then he opened the passenger side door and out stepped the largest black woman I had ever seen in my life. The two of them walked up in front of me and stopped. The man, looking at me straight in the eyes, opened the folded chair and stepped back. The woman sat down and said "Johnny tells me I need to spank your little white butt. Is that going to be necessary?"

In total shock, I replied "No ma'am."

"GOOD," she said.

She got up and walked toward the restaurant, as did the other people in the van. The man walked back to the van and replaced the chair.

It must have been almost ten p.m. when we finally ate. Half way through the meal Johnny excused himself and was gone for more than twenty minutes. When he returned he laid a motel key in front of me.

"I'm sorry but I..."

"MAMA," said Johnny in a harsh tone.

As the large woman started to stand up I motioned for her to sit back down-that a spanking was not necessary.

As we ate Johnny began tapping his spoon against his glass. When everyone quieted down, he raised his water and said, "I would like to make a toast. "This is the way America should be," he said, almost choking on the words he had just spoken.

Everyone took a sip of water and sat there quietly, smiling and nodding their heads to the affirmative.

After eating we all walked to the motel, next door to the restaurant. I shook Johnny's hand and the large woman hugged both me and my wife.

When the wife and I got up the next morning their van was gone. A white envelope was left on our windshield. Written were the words "Thank You and May God Bless." Inside was a twenty dollar bill, folded in the shape of a cross.

Roger Dean Kiser

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Pastor Tim O Brien on what the religious system lacks

The following was written by a friend of mine, Pastor Tim O Brien who pastors a church in Fort Leonard Wood Missouri. I decided to post it because it contains some interesting insight background information about the story of the rich young ruler that I have not heard before. Enjoy!

A rich landowner asked Jesus, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” The man insisted that he had kept many of the moral commands his whole life, but Jesus said, ‘You still lack one thing. Sell everything you have and give to the poor. Then come, follow Me.”

What Jesus asked this man to do is key to understanding this passage. The great estates this man owned were populated by peasants who worked for him. Those peasants’ families, however, used to own that land!

When Rome conquered Judea and Gallilee, they taxed the people so heavily that only the richest could afford it. Everyone else had to foreclose on their land. They would sell out to rich Jewish landowners who would then collect tax from them and pay off the Romans.

These peasants were not living what the covenant people of God had been promised. God had promised to take them out of Egypt (out of slavery) to give them a land. Now they were back in slavery.

Jesus asked this man to do a bold thing. He asked him to sell his land back to the Jews who rightfully owned it. This man, however, was not concerned with the plight of his fellow Jews or the plan of God.

God had always desired to empower a covenant people, free from slavery. These people were to own the land and carry the presence of God. They were to be a display of God’s glory in the earth.

This man could not bring himself to sell his land. He was too concerned with self-preservation and his own empowerment. He lacked honor for God and His covenant.

We have the same situation in our religious system today. Religious leaders are too concerned with their self-preservation and their empowerment. It is the people of God, not just select leaders, who are supposed to carry the presence of God, do the work of the ministry, and shine forth the glory of God.

We make up non-biblical words like “clergy” and “laity” to reserve empowerment for only a select few. We prohibit covenant people from doing the work of the ministry: baptizing, offering communion, laying hands on the sick, etc. Our pastors, who are supposed to equip the saints for the work of the ministry, end up doing the ministry.

In our ministry, we are practicing being the covenant people of God. On Sunday morning, our congregation happily shows up early. Everyone knows they are responsible for the ministry, even the children. When the first song starts, we, like priests carrying the Ark, usher in the presence of God together. We are experiencing life!

by Pastor Tim O’Brien

Rock of Ages Ministries

The difference between cannibals and non-cannibals

Here is a little pop quiz for my readers. What is the difference between cannibals and non- cannibals. Uh....Isn't that obvious Aaron? One eats people and one doesn't. Well, I guess that is a little obvious. But the real question is, why are some people cannibals and others aren't? The cannibal and the non-cannibal both have human teeth. Both are homo sapiens. What makes one person a cannibal and another person a non-cannibal?

The answer is actually very simple according to a behavioral scientist that called into Bill O'Reilly's radio program yesterday. The answer is-one person believes it's okay to eat people and the other person doesn't. Yes, it really is that simple. Think about most of the Pacific Island countries like Fiji and Vanuatu and Papua New Guinea. Just over a century ago cannibalism was about as common as dear hunting is in America today. Why? Because the people believed it was okay. Their religion taught them that to eat a man is to ingest his soul. If the man is a good warrior, I can see how that would be desirable in a society where tribal and clan warfare is a normal part of life.

Why are the people in these countries not cannibals anymore? Yep. You guessed it, they don't believe it is right anymore. I wonder where they got this strange idea that eating people is wrong? Could it be the Christian missionaries that came to them and taught them the Bible? No. That would be too simple of a solution for those who believe that religion is humanity's opium.

My point-beliefs matter! This is why the Secular Progressive movement is so dangerous because it refuses to make personal moral judgments. Our nation is successful because of the Judeo-Christian ethic that provided a moral foundation in the lives of its people. When those foundations are destroyed-watch out!

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Harry Potter and the alien from Mexico

Pete. I'm sure you'll love this one. In today's news, a woman in a county in Georgia is seeking to ban Harry Potter from the public library. The claim is that Harry Potter indoctrinates children in the Wiccan religion. The Board of Education replied that if they were to remove all references to witches from their libraries, they would have to remove Cinderella and Mac Beth. Good argument. And might I add that they would also have to throw out C.S. Lewis's Chronicles of Narnia as well.

While my own take on Harry Potter is rather ambivalent (or is ambiguous the word?). I feel that the books have much less to do with Wicca and much more to do with British folklore which, for me, would be put in the category of fantasy or imaginary. I don't believe that author J.K. Rowling is secretly a witch or a Satanist trying to recruit millions of young people into practicing actual witchcraft. Having said that, I can see why many Christians would object to it. When I was living in Africa, I noticed that my African Christian friends were much more inclined to take Harry Potter seriously than your average American or European steeped in a materialistic worldview. Why? Because they live in a world of "good witches and bad witches". (actually the good witches are called medicine men) Magic powers to them is not fantasy, it is reality. The Harry Potter books could be dangerous to some who have a natural inclination towards occultism.

Having said that, there was something in the article that I found more disturbing than one woman's quest to ban Harry Potter. Everyone who reads the article (especially secular humanists) will automatically assume that the woman attempting to ban Harry Potter is an Evangelical Christian. With that assumption in place, they would probably assume that since Georgia is part of the Bible Belt, the attempt to ban Spanish literature from the library was also an effort by Evangelical Christians. Why did the people of this particular county in Georgia not want Spanish books in the library? Because they didn't want illegal aliens to have anything to read. Never mind the fact that there might be a few legal Hispanic immigrants in the population who might enjoy some material in their mother tongue. The idea represented is this: "As God-fearing, flag-waving white Anglo Saxons, we feel that the public libraries should represent the majority of us church going folks, not the rest of the population."

Scary. Might I ask the good folks from such and such county in Georgia one simple question. What does banning literature from illegal aliens have to do with the essentials of Christianity? What does it tell people about our faith when we are so proud to be Christians that we feel ourselves superior to others? Why do you think that Evangelical Christians are so stereotyped in the media? Is it a vast left-wing conspiracy or do we Christians often contribute to the stereotype of being narrow -minded and bigoted? I love my race, my nation, my language, and my heritage. But if I have to choose between my faith in Christ and everything else. I'll choose Christ any day. Even if it means that one day, in the good old U.S.A., I might be forced to worship Him in Spanish.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Prosperity put-downs/a not-so-new trend

Last week I heard about this great movie coming out that was produced by a Baptist church in Florida called Facing the Giants. I was told that Sony was giving it a test run over the weekend to see if it would continue to market the film. Being the good Christian patrons, my wife and I rushed to the theater after church on Sunday, purchased our tickets, and watched the film. After an emotional roller coaster of crying then laughing, then crying and laughing again, we left the film with a sense of hope for the future and a greater appreciation for the love of God. I immediately went home to check the online reviews of the film and came across Christianity Today's review of the film. Expecting at least a nod of appreciation for the film's content, I was rather disappointed when the reviewer blasted the film.

What disappointed me wasn't so much the fact that the reviewer didn't like the acting in the film. I can understand that. Acting is very subjective and all us have different emotional triggers that work uniquely for us and not for others. What disappointed me was the content of the criticism. The critic pointed to a scene where an assistant coach tries to help a struggling athlete kick a field goal by applying the Scripture , "Narrow is the way that leads to life and broad is the way that leads to destruction." The critic described this as "twisting Jesus's words" and totally missed the point. The coach wasn't giving a theology lesson, he was trying to help a struggling athlete. This is called comic relief, not Film Theology 101.

The other put down was the fact that things turn out a little too right for the stuggling coach and his infertile wife. After the main character has an encounter with God and decides to live for His glory, God shows up and turns his hopeless situation around. According to the critic, this is too close to the "name it and claim it" and "prosperity gospel" camp.

I beg to differ. Repeatedly in the film, the coach says that we are to praise God when we win and we are to praise God when we lose (aka...when things go bad). It just so happened that things did happen to turn out right for the man in every way before the end of the film. Might I ask, what is wrong with this? Speaking from the perspective of someone who has struggled with many of the same issues as the coach in the film (I too often feel like a failure and my wife and I have been struggling with infertility for almost the same time as the character in the film), I find it rather encouraging that if we live for the glory of God, then God will help us to win in the end-whatever that looks like.

Too often the words "name it and claim it" and "prosperity gospel" become cheap put- downs against Christians (especially preachers) who actually believe that God answers prayer. I wonder if the critic of this film was equally disappointed when he read the Book of Job and discovered that, in the end, God gave Job twice as much as he had before. Yes. Sometimes things really do turn out right for people when they cry out to God in genuine faith. I ,for one, do not have a problem with that. Why should I?

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Lessons from a recovering feminist

I've heard Dr. Laura before. She is the lady that solves people's marital problems over the airwaves. I've always thought of her like a female Dr. Phil until I saw her on Larry King Live the other night. Besides her rather extreme view that all women should be home with their children all the time (that is, until they go to school, then a woman can work from 9-3), I think that Dr. Laura has a lot to say to our generation, especially women who feel that it is somehow demeaning to them if they love and respect their husbands.

During the interview, a woman called in and challenged Dr. Laura's view on women being home with their children by asking about what if the husband leaves her, then she would be out on her own. Dr. Laura replied that her comments were the typical feminist mantra-and they are.

Tragically, we live in a culture where people do not expect marriages to last. Women are supposed to be independent because they can not trust men to hold up to their end of the bargain. I wonder where these women get this idea? Um...could it be Hollywood? No, we can not blame all of societies woes on Hollywood, but I think that Dr. Laura is right when she says that we need better role models for this younger generation. On the show, they played clips of TV images of fathers in the past and compared them to TV images of fathers today. What a shame! Fathers have gone from dignified and respectful to whiny and lazy. Dr. Laura criticized Tom Cruise for having a fling with a girl half his age and impregnating her before putting a ring on her finger. No wonder the far-left hates Dr. Laura! She actually believes that marriage precedes sex, not the other way around. What for some is ridiculous is just plain common sense for others