Monthly Archives: April 2007

A Little IT Humor

“No Steve! File not found is not a good thing.”– John Cleese from Iron Mountain promo video

Last week while looking for various backup solutions for our company, I came across this video from Iron Mountain, a company that supplies online data backup services. I normally wouldn’t write about an advertisement. But it was so clever that I have watched it a number of times.

The video short features John Cleese from the Monty Python movies. He is the director of the Institute of Backup Trauma. I know this is a little different than my usual blog topic. If you have ever lost data, you will enjoy this little short.

 http://www.ironmountain.com/services/tours/backuptrama.asp

Is Morality a Waste of Time?

News reports recently described how research commissioned by Congress casts doubts on the success of abstinence programs. Headlines called abstinence initiatives as a waste of time and money.

Children who took part in sex abstinence classes were found to be just as likely to engage in sexual intercourse for the first time at the same age as children who did not receive these classes. The research was conducted by Mathematica Policy Research Inc. It indicates that on average teenagers first had sex at the age of 14.9 years.

The U.S. government spends $176 million on abstinence programs each year. Some goods news for abstinence programs. They did not result in an increase in the rate of unprotected sex as some critics have suggested. The USA has one of the highest rates of unwanted teenage pregnancies in the Western World.

Find out more about the report at http://www.mathematica-mpr.com/publications/PDFs/impactabstinence.pdf

All of this seems to miss the point. It doesn’t matter if people listen or not. Authorities have a responsibility to encourage people to do the right thing. Casual sex by non-married individuals is not a good idea – just ask all those young, single mothers who thought their lover would stay no matter what.  

In his book, Sex God, Rob Bell asked, “Are we just the some of our urges?” He then wrote, “A human isn’t just a collection of urges and needs, but is a being who God resides in…There is more to life than just the next fix… It really teaches that people cannot transcend the physical limitations of their existence. It views people much like animals. And so many live with a low grade sense of despair that they are helpless and this is simply how it is. 

“No where is this chronic despair more evident than in a lot of sex education curriculum. Many of which are based on the premise that the kids are going to do it. If you deconstruct that, what are you going to get? – A loss of hope. Who decided that kids or anybody else for that matter are unable to abstain? In a lot of settings, abstinence programs are laughed at…The criticism of the sex is for marriage view is generally presented as the voice of realism. Are people actually capable of restraint? But it’s not realism. It is actually the voice of despair. It is the voice that ask, ‘Aren’t we all really just animals?'”

The New Testament depicts Christians as living temples. And a temple is a holy place, where the gods live. It connects this world with the divine. If we are really temples and God really lives in us, wouldn’t we be capable of more than just the animal instinct?

One of the problems is that many “Christian” abstinence programs try to demonize sex. The human sex drive is a God-given, natural urge that is designed to force people to grow up, make a family and continue the human race. Sex is part of God’s design to bring men and women together through a beneficial, pleasurable act. But when some Christians present sexual desire as a perversion,  this makes people feel like something is wrong with them. People tend to run from God due to unnecessary shame. This makes it difficult to respond to sexual urges in proper ways.

There has to be middle ground between the extremes on this issue. It is worth the trouble to find the solution because I believe that morality is not a waste of time.

Your sin, Our Sin

It can be very easy to see the sin in another society but hard to detect it in our own nation. This comes from a general desire to like where we live and have a sense of national pride. The “blind to our own sin” reality also springs from the fact that we don’t like bad news that hits close to home.

A particular practice may seem normal or acceptable to us while others might consider it barbaric. We can be too close to our sin to be objective about it. Besides, we don’t like the word sin any way. It is far too honest. We prefer to think of them as indiscretions or mistakes.

It tends to be human nature to give ourselves the benefit of the doubt while we ascribe the worst possible motives to others. I confronted this reality in a recent interview with a businessman from South Africa. He told me that his company had to go to considerable effort to train some workers from more remote areas. They were not accustomed to using a toilet. He even tried to “civilize” some actions that were not beneficial to workers or their families. For example, this man trained his workers not to beat their wives. It is a commonly accepted practice that men in some areas of Africa beat their wives to keep them in submission. The men feel this will insure that the wife will be loyal and do a good job in their role.

My business contact said that his company held a love poem contest and offered prizes for the men to give their wives. The winners were surprised when they found out how these gifts and token of love worked better than the beatings. While hearing this, I thought about how barbaric these people must be. Then all of a sudden, I heard the Spirit say to me that we in the great “civilized” West have our own barbarisms.

According to the Guttmacher Institute, which tracks reproductive health issues, women in the United States have well over one million abortions per year. America continues to gobble up a huge amount of resources that causes others to pay the price. The United States has the largest prison population in the Western world. This is just a quick sampling of our national “issues.”

I guess my point is that we are all sinners. Each nation has its good and bad points. We must be careful thinking higher of ourselves than we ought. Some nations have more progress although there is no utopia.

It all starts with taking the huge beam out of our eye before we try to fix other nations.

Hokie Dream

While in a service this week dedicated to remembering the great tragedy and loss of life at Virginia Tech, the Spirit led me to the following Scripture. This message from Isaiah speaks to us today about the need to have God’s dream. I believe that God created each one of us to be a restorer of the things that are broken in our world. Read the following verse and consider how you can build up the old waste places.

 

Isaiah 58:9-14(NKJV)

Then you shall call, and the LORD will answer; You shall cry, and He will say, ‘Here I am.’

“If you take away the yoke from your midst, the pointing of the finger, and speaking wickedness, if you extend your soul to the hungry and satisfy the afflicted soul, then your light shall dawn in the darkness, and your darkness shall be as the noonday. The LORD will guide you continually, and satisfy your soul in drought,  and strengthen your bones;  You shall be like a watered garden,  and like a spring of water, whose waters do not fail.          

“Those from among you  shall build the old waste places; you shall raise up the foundations of many generations; and you shall be called the Repairer of the Breach, The Restorer of Streets to Dwell In.       

“If you turn away your foot from the Sabbath, from doing your pleasure on My holy day, and call the Sabbath a delight, the holy day of the LORD honorable, and shall honor Him, not doing your own ways, nor finding your own pleasure, nor speaking your own words, then you shall delight yourself in the LORD; and I will cause you to ride on the high hills of the earth, and feed you with the heritage of Jacob your father. The mouth of the LORD has spoken.”

This Scripture is God’s dream for His people. And what God has spoken will come about in time. This passage reminds me a lot of what I have heard from the Va Tech community over the past week. People want to move on while acknowledging the past. They want to see something good come from tragedy. Hokies want restoration take place in a community that has been shaken. This is the Hokie dream. It follows God’s heart, and I believe it will happen in God’s time.

Jesus And…

It can get real easy for Christians to view the life of Christ through the eyes of a political cause or issue. Along the way, Jesus gets co-opted for man’s agenda. This is dangerous because the focus slowly moves off Christ onto something or someone else.

Typically, the thing that starts to take over may be a good thing in its own right. That is why this error can be so destructive. It is subtle. It seems right. But when you get right down to it man or earth focused religion is humanism clothed in religous verbage.

As a Christian, I believe that Jesus is THE way, THE truth, and THE life. The word “THE” in that statement makes all the difference. The entire thought changes if you insert “A” for “THE”. That is exactly what people do when the Christian faith becomes about anything other than the Gospel.

Sure, most people don’t come right out and say they are polluting the message. They would see their actions as fitting to the Gospel. The best way to tell if the person, group, movement or church has fallen into error is to see where the focus of time, money, effort and attention is placed.

Just in case you are not following the type of shift in focus that I am talking about, here are some examples:

  • Right wing politics. Left wing politics.
  • The appearance of propriety and public reputation.
  • Social justice – serving the poor and downcast of society.
  • Saving the unborn.
  • Overcoming sin and addiction.
  • Saving the environment.
  • Being culturally relevant and hip to the latest social trends.
  • Music style or dress.
  • Defending the Bible.
  • Evangelism – bringing people to meet Jesus.
  • Standing up against persecution.
  • Kid & family friendly programs and focus.
  • Healthy living.
  • Pop psychology/self help.
  • Racial equality and civil rights.
  • Religious icons.
  • Preserving the sanctity of marriage as one man with one woman.
  • Recognizing that God loves all people, including homosexuals.
  • Prosperity, healing and God’s blessings for His children.
  • Faith-based living.

Many of the things above are not bad. Actually, most people, would probably consider them good. The real problem comes when people might consider any one thing as the central focus of the Gospel instead of possibly part of it. Sure, Jesus was for helping the poor and showing mercy to sinners. You bet, Christians should be good stewards of the earth and value all human life because we are created in God’s image. But none of those issues are the totality of Jesus’ life or message.

Given enough free time, the human mind can take one passage of Scripture and create all sorts of interesting gods and diversions out of it. These things may seem good just like the fruit that Eve ate. But they can be just as deadly.

The moment we get into the “Jesus Plus ….” trap, we can easily stray into a godly cause that removes God as the center focus. Here is what one demon (Screwtape) had to say about this trick. He was writing to a fellow demon to discuss tempting a young Christian in C.S. Lewis’ book, The Screwtape Letters. The demon wrote, “What we want, if men become Christians at all, is to keep them in a state of mind I call, ‘Christianity And’. You know – Christianity and the Crisis, Christianity and the New Psychology, Christianity and the New Order, Christianity and Faith Healing, Christianity and Psychical Research, Christianity and Vegetarianism, Christianity and Spelling Reform. If they must be a Christians let them at least be Christians with a difference.” 

The essence of the Gospel is Jesus. The “And” part is where we can get into trouble and take our eyes of the author and finisher of our faith. While there are many good things for us to do in this life, there is only One way. And His name is Jesus. 

Underground Economy

A discussion at work today has caused me to think about all the money that changes hands in this country under the table. You know the kind of thing that I am talking about. Some call it kickbacks or greasing the palm of someone you want to act in a certain way.

One guy I talked to today was full of conspiracy theories. He made it seem like everyone had an angle to work. While the guy made some great points, he also seemed to be a little bit extreme. Our conversation got me to thinking about graft and corruption.

My brother, who happens to own a professional life audio business, tells stories about the music industry that you wouldn’t believe.

I am also reminded of a business associate from Europe who described how Eastern Block countries work. He said that these countries keep costs low by having government employees receive a sizable amount of their pay by people who visit them wanting something. For example, if you need a permit, you have to pay a fee for processing. But if you want the request to be processed in a timely manner, then you have to pay an extra fee to the person taking your request. This money goes directly in their pockets.

My European business associate made it seem that money under the table was the only way that things got done and people were paid in some countries. In those parts of the world, they don’t consider it corruption as much as necessary compensation for government workers. This “system” pushes the cost of the service onto the person wanting it. What we consider bad in the United States is common practice in other parts of the world.

America is not innocent when it comes to the underground economy. While our society seems to be more honest than some, we still have big companies that play favorites, special interests that give junkets to powerful people, and politicians who take kickbacks for political favors.

At what point does an action go from cementing a relationship to buying influence? This can be a hard line to identify. What seems true is that many people are all to willing to skirt that line whenever the situation warrants it.

Scripture states that God hates dishonest scales. This means we should try to be fair and not do things that show preferential treatment for unjustified reasons.

Are you scales balanced or are you a participant in the underground economy?

Prayer for VA Tech

Oh Lord, may you comfort a stunned nation due to the tragedy at Virginia Tech today. For those in Blacksburg, especially victims of the shootings, may you work miracles to restore what was intended for evil. Guide the hands of the medical professionals and authorities as they bring aid, comfort and protection. May any victims who are struggling to make it receive complete healing that no more would die in this massacre.

For all those who are physically Ok but shaken in their soul, may you speak words of love and strength. Free them from mind games that could make the situation worse. Guide them in grief and allow them to process through what could be very confusing. In times of great tragedy, we know that you are there.

At a loss for words, we contact those we love. Overjoyed to hear that many are safe, we mourn for those who have been slain. It’s a mix of feelings that is hard to explain.

For all the families who have lost loved ones, there are no easy answers. There is a deep sense of loss and shock. It will take time to recover. We are encouraged that you not time can heal all wounds.

As a nation that wants quick answers, may we be patient to support our leaders and pray for those seeking to reduce the likelihood that this would ever happen again. Help us to unite behind a common vision to see our society become a place where we don’t result to violence to “solve” our problems. Free us from the lies of  the evil one who wants to rob us of life, joy and peace.

Jesus release a great outpouring of your healing power to Blacksburg and this country. Use your Church to be your hands and feet. May we all realize that no one is ever guaranteed tomorrow. Use this tragedy to bring hope and your life to those who desperately need it. Help us to grow from this experience and to become stronger through adversity. Be glorified in this tragedy. May we rest in the healing of your wings. Amen!

A Deeper Healing

When we don’t feel well or are sick, nothing seems to be a bigger deal than getting better. Returning to full health can preoccupy our mind. This is especially true for anyone facing a terminal illness. I would feel much the same way and have been blessed to not have any major disease in my life.

The other day I was thinking about divine healing. I asked God some tough questions because healing remains a mystery to me. Recently, a number of people in my church have experienced healing miracles.

 I am overjoyed to see what the Lord has done. Yet I struggle with how to pray and help those who are close to me that have not been healed. This is a classic question that has been around for a very long time.

I want people to be healed and restored, but I also realize that God may have something better in mind than what I think is best. I am also concerned about people getting so excited about miracles that we focus on healing and not Jesus or His mission. Jesus warned about the dangers of seeking signs and wonders. He said, “It is a wicked and adulterous generation that seeks a sign.”

While thinking and praying about these things, I believe that the Holy Spirit impressed on me that there is a big difference between seeking a healing to be restored and looking for miraculous works so that we can see the spiritual fireworks. One is based on faith and a godly desire to allow God to redeem all of us. The other is faithless. It treats God like He is a puppet to perform for us. Sign seekers want something to brag about or to make them feel spiritual. Our motive and asking for a move of God can make all the difference.

Going even deeper into the issue of healing, I sensed that the Spirit wasn’t done with His message. I was reminded of how Jesus did more than just heal the body. Consider the following story:

Mark 2:1-7 (NIV) – “A few days later, when Jesus again entered Capernaum, the people heard that he had come home. So many gathered that there was no room left, not even outside the door, and he preached the word to them.

Some men came, bringing to him a paralytic, carried by four of them. Since they could not get him to Jesus because of the crowd, they made an opening in the roof above Jesus and, after digging through it, lowered the mat the paralyzed man was lying on. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, ‘Son, your sins are forgiven.’

“Now some teachers of the law were sitting there, thinking to themselves, ‘Why does this fellow talk like that? He’s blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?'”

Jesus did more than just heal the man’s legs. He healed the man’s heart too. Many times God does a physical healing and then goes deeper to fix the things on the inside that others do not see. If all we go for is the physical healing and then stop, we may walk away from the operating table before God can do the more important work of inner healing.

Just like He did with the man in the story, Jesus can set us free from sin and the things that have caused us to rot on the inside. We have to let Him work though because God respects our free will.

Physical healings like what has happened at my church lately are precursors to a great move of God. The question is, “Do we have the faith to trust God for a deeper healing?”

Imus Controversy

For the record, I am a white male. But I do have a number of African American friends, and I don’t like the use of derogatory language no matter who uses it. That is why it seems like the whole Don Imus debacle misses the point.

Sure, what Imus said was uncalled for and inappropriate. These women appear to be smart as well as athletic. They certainly don’t deserve the negative statement that Imus made.

In my opinion, the biggest problem with Imus’ words is not that he said those offensive remarks. The larger issue is that these women didn’t fit the slang words at all. They are the antithesis of what he said.

Senator Hillary Clinton said that Imus “crossed the line.” I agree with her. But it is no different than much of what classifies as “entertainment” any more. From shock jocks to crass comedians to extremely inappropriate rap and hip-hop lyrics and videos, the public airwaves are filled with tons of stuff a lot worse than Imus’ comments.

I believe if the word is offensive. It shouldn’t be used or condoned by anyone. It is kind of like the “N” word being use by African Americans.  In college, some of my black friends used this word or derivations of it to talk to each other. I asked why they used it. They said it was slang. I asked why I couldn’t use it. They said because I was white. Now, I had no desire to use the “N”word. But I feel like it seems disingenuous to make a big deal about words and then use those words just because you are a woman or a minority.

I am no Don Imus apologists. He has never seemed to be a great radio host or TV personality from my perspective. But he is a shock jock who is paid to be edgy and try to be funny. Some people find his brand of “entertainment” to be funny. I have never listened to him for more than a couple of minutes. 

All of the media attention seems unwarranted since there are so many more important issues going on in the world than the rants of one shock jock. Yet major media outlets have made it a big deal. What about Darfur, proliferation of nuclear weapons, environmental issues, pandemic diseases, human right violations around the globe, etc. Words can hurt. But that is nothing compared to the number of people who are abused, assaulted and even killed around the world every year due to their faith, race, age, social class, etc.

Don Imus is not the cause of America’s obsession with lude and inappropriate humor. He is merely a sample of what is wrong with our society. This has brought attention to the fact that much of our entertainment demeans women as nothing more than sex objects.

There does appear to be a double standard when it comes to things like rap and hip-hop. Cussing to a beat is not art no matter what the “artists” have to say about it.

CNN recently carried a piece on the apparent double standard over offensive words and depictions. Time covered this angle too. In a speech after CBS fired Imus, Sharpton admitted that Imus was not the only one guilty of this improper speech. He called on black artists to consider how their lyrics depict women. So at least that’s a start.  

The simple lesson is that we should be careful what we say. This is especially true for public celebrities. The Bible identifies that life and death exist in the power of the tongue. We should all be careful what we say just to try to get a cheap laugh or impress someone else.

On the other side of the issue, none of us are ever going to be perfect in what we say. This includes the Rev. Al Sharpton.

As a result, we should be apt to forgive and let things go when people apologize. I don’t think that Jesus would have called for Imusto be fired as much as He would have tried to restore him. Jesus didn’t call Zacchaeus to resign. He inspired him to make amends and live a God-fearing, people loving life. That’s a better end to the story.

Recent Thoughts

  • CNN recently carried a show about Christianity. It was titled, “What is a Christian?” I have recently thought that a better title is “Who is Jesus?” Too often people focus on people of a faith not the God that they worship. For Christians, we worship Jesus. He is the center of the faith. The people are only fragile vessels.
  • Today a co-worker talked about a godly women who told her the following wise saying, “Expectations are usually a premeditated resentment.” I am still thinking about that gem of insight.
  • Last weekend, Jim Patterson gave a great comment about formulas and Christianity. He said, “It’s only a formula if you try to repeat it.”
  • Jim Pociluyko talked recently about meditating on the concept of what it was like in the world in the days of Noah. Everyone was feasting, doing what they wanted to know, there was no sense of morality or fear of judgement. People mocked Noah and did not believe God’s warning of sudden doom. Most people lived faithless lives. Then the rains came. Jim mentioned this concept and connected it with prophecy that warns in the later days people will be like it was during the time of Noah. That’s a scary thought. There always does seem to be a calm before the killer storm.
  • “There are two essential problems with believing God is somebody He isn’t. The first problem is that it wrecks your life, and the second is that it makes God look like an idiot.” – Donald Miller from Searching For God Knows What
  • Thoughts from The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis – Prayers which have no reference point in the real world are just words. We can easily put spiritual practices, such as prayer, in one compartment, and never let them influence our ordinary lives. This creates disconnect because everything is spiritual. For example, peace on earth begins with patience toward the annoying tone or look of someone else at our job or in our household. 
  • More thoughts from Screwtape, prayer is not about emotion. Prayer is simply wasting time with God. It doesn’t always produce easily measurable results. It’s true value can seem elusive, especially if we don’t get what we want. Prayer is not always pleasant because sometimes we see through prayer the truth that we have been working hard to avoid. It can puncture our illusion of control.