Monthly Archives: August 2010

Bragging Rights

Is is okay for a Christian to brag or boast about God? Does that seem like bad form? Would Jesus or Paul makes strong claims about the superiority of the Gospel? Does this approach turn off non-believers? Does that matter? Can a Christian trash talk when it comes to the debate about my God being better than your “fake” god?

It is kind of interesting that Genesis does not start out arguing for the supremacy of God (elohim). There is no defense of the God of the Bible against other supposed gods in the creation account. Genesis merely starts out with the assumption of God’s existence and supreme authority.

There are a number of times were leaders in Scripture make some bold claims. Elijah, the prophet, even does some serious trash talking when challenging the prophets of Baal to a duel in 1 Kings 18.

Jesus made some bold claims about his relationship with God, the Father. He told one disciple that if you had seen Him, you had seen the Father. Those are pretty strong words. The apostle Paul wrote about Jesus as having supreme authority as the creator and sustainer of the entire world. So it seems that Christ had/has some serious bragging rights.

I started thinking about this after Pastor Tim Matthews challenged students in the Mix (the youth group where I volunteer) about being bold in declaring the glory of God. Tim essentially asked, “Why or why not do you brag on Jesus to others?”

Our answer shows what we really think about Jesus. This is especially true for a supposed Christian. If we brag about our girlfriend, our car, our new job, our basketball skills, or our credentials, why can’t we give God the appropriate props?

Many of the students didn’t like the world “brag.” I kind of agreed. But Tim explained that he chose the world on purpose. We should realize that God is so great that there is no way our petty explanations can suffice. Our bragging barely touches the surface of God’s majesty and glory. Tim challenged the group that the world gets all worked up about nothing. But for some reason Christians are supposed to be silent about Jesus – the best single reality to ever impact our world.

Bragging implies that we go overboard on talking up something. But can we ever really do this if Scripture is true about what it has to say about Jesus? I believe that our words will always fall short. But Christians should still try to proclaims God’s glory by our words, actions and very lives.

Calling all God braggers we should shout it from the rooftops. Jesus is….
Love
Life
Truth
Eternal Hope
The Only Way
Savior and Redeemer
Creator
Radiant Light
Prince of Peace
Conquering King
…And Victor over Death, Hell and the Grave!

Drivers Ed Class

Have you ever felt like you were living through a Saturday Day Night Live sketch? I felt that way today as I attended a court-ordered driving improvement class in the Mechanicsville area. I went to help erase my recent speeding ticket (first in my life).

I dreaded going. I figured it was going to be a waste of eight hours. In some ways, it was. I probably could have learned everything in half the time. But then again, those “wasted” moments is what made the entire ordeal worthy of a blog post.

I have changed names to protect the identity of the innocent, notorious and downright unforgettable. But I promise that all the stories are mostly true. I may have not gotten all the dialogue 100% right.

The class started out with Larry telling everyone before the class that he was there because he had fallen asleep behind the wheel. He then proceeded to doze off about six times through the eight-hour course. There was one time that his eyes rolled back in his head while he was sitting straight up. I looked at the older gentleman next to me, Roy, who motioned to his daughter, Connie. We all looked at Larry and rolled our eyes as if to say, “There is no way this guy should be behind the wheel of any vehicle.”

Students started to fill the small classroom. Then, our instructor, Bart, proceeded to give a quick intro to the course and ask each student a few questions. Bart wanted to know our name, why we were there, and our job. One of the first guys he asked to respond was Larry. He responded by telling the class that he had just got out of prison for a six-year term. He then detailed his crimes of writing bad checks, his legal proceedings, a short comment or two about his former career as a tradesman, and then described his recent wreck. The woman sitting next to Larry moved over a bit as soon as he admitted his recent stent in jail.

The rest of the introductions were fairly normal. There were a few family members who attended. One mother/daughter tandem came together. The 17 year-old girl, Lisa, proceeded to rat out her mom (Mary) as a speeder. Lisa admitted that her father had signed them both up for the class to reduce their insurance costs since they had both recently received speeding tickets. Lisa told how her father was just as reckless as them, but he never seemed to get caught by the cops.

Lisa commented how she had been a fairly safe driver all her life. The entire room erupted in laughter when Bart said, “All two years you have been driving… right. I know that seems like a long time. But Roy back there has been driving a lot longer than you have been alive.” Roy was in his late 60s. He said that his last ticket was 30 years ago.

Lisa’s youth and inexperience became a running joke for the group the entire time. She proceeded to explain that she was safer than most of her friends who thought she was a kill joy. I couldn’t help but wonder if she was saying these things because her mother was sitting right next to her. Bart told a few blond jokes through the lesson. She never got em.

Then, there was the film student from Boston College, Julie. She had recently moved downtown. She asked the best question of the day. With a completely straight face, she asked, “Some of my friends told me that the reason the state troopers always put their hats on when they get out of the car is that they can’t write you ticket unless they have their hat on. Isn’t that a strange rule?”

Bart said, “That is a new one. I never heard that before. I can assure that there is no such rule like that. Are you sure that your friends weren’t trying to pull a joke on you?” Julie responded that she had been told that by ten different people and that they were very serious. I asked, “Did these people also ask you to go snipe hunting?” She had never heard of snipe hunting either.

The entire room had a good laugh.

When Bart made fun of my salad for lunch, Julie mentioned that she was a vegan, which completely astounded Bart. He couldn’t understand why somebody would not eat meat. I agreed and said that I like both meat and salads. I especially like salads with meat. Anyway, throughout the class, Bart tried to convert Julie to the dark side of the meat eaters. She stayed a vegan and even talked about eating rice milk flavored icecream substitute. Yuck!

Bart showed a number of videos and did a good job of covering the basics. He even offered to show us his certificates because he knew that somebody as rough looking as him seemed to be an odd character to be teaching a driving school. Bart was funny and kind of raw. He’s the kind of guy that I would picture one day on the Blue Collar Comedy Tour.

His stories about the horrors of insurance, stupidest things he had seen in his driving experience and how to talk to cops was worth the price of admission.

Later in the day, Bart allowed us to try on goggles that demonstrated how your vision can be impaired when you are legally drunk. We all marveled at the effect. All expect for Larry. He said, “Wow, that ain’t nothing. You should see what happens with your driving ability when you are lit up on crystal meth!”

To which, Bart said, “What did you just say? No, never mind. I don’t want to hear it.”

Another fond memory occurred when Lisa tried to blame her speeding habit on her parents. She said that she picked it up from them. Bart responded, ” You can’t inherit bad decisions from your parents like you do hair color, facial features or height. Those decision belong to you. Sure, they may not have provided the best example. But you have to take responsibility for your decisions.”

Bart got Lisa to semi admit her guilt. But I still think if she was honest, she would point as much blame back at her folks.

Those were my funny moments from the driving class today. My experience convinced me that there are a lot of characters on the road today.

Things I Wish I Had Said

When a young person or anybody tragically dies, it can be hard on special occasions, such as birthdays. It was recently the 21st birthday of a young man who died last year. I had known this person since he was just a kid. I remember throwing football with him in his front yard. I remember him pulling pranks on me during camping trips when he was in middle school. Occasionally, I would work with him on advancements in Royal Rangers.

Through the years, we kind of lost touch. We would see each other maybe a few times each year. I remember going to some high school football games. Every once and a while I caught up with him for lunch or just gave him a call to let him know that I cared.

I remember playing pool with him a few years ago when he had just come back to Christ and turned some things around in his life. It was a blessing to hear how God was moving in his life despite some significant challenges. That is why it was so hard when he died.

I remember the week that he died. The Holy Spirit placed him on my heart several times. And in the busyness of life, I never called. I forgot. I got sidetracked. Good intentions, but no real action. Then, the next day I planned to call, but he was already dead. His life snuffed out too early.

This is not a confession or some kind of apology. He had many loving people in communication with him the week that he died. But I do wish that I had called. This reminds me that the next time the Holy Spirit brings somebody to remembrance, I should stop to take action. I should never be so busy that I cannot stop to obey the leading of the Holy Spirit or take time to connect with someone in the moment. There are things that I wish that I had said that week. Maybe they wouldn’t have made a difference in the end. But at least he would have known that I said them.

Chris, buddy. I miss you man. Know that I always believed in you and still do hope for the best. Happy 21st!

Are You Living in Your Divine Calling?

While in discussion with some students at The Mix tonight, I noticed how they all seemed to think of the term “calling” as it relates to their future job or career. We were discussing God’s callings for our lives. It was a fairly open context. But the discussion tended to gravitate toward skills, interests and careers.

Sometimes we tend to think our call is just about what we do as a job. But it is so much more than that. It really touches every area of life. Our calling is really whatever the Holy Spirit is directing us to do at the moment. I believe that our calling is both a very complex and simple thing. Really, our calling can change through the years as we transition through various phases of life. What we do when we are sixteen is not likley to represent our life 10 years later, 20 years later or 40 years later.

Yet, as a Christian there are some callings that I believe are not unique to me. But they are part of the calling for every true believer. All Christians are called to love God and live for His Kingdom and glory. We are all called to be witnesses of Christ’s message and be connected to a body of local believers. We are all called to pray, read the Bible and seek to know God better.

Thinking about my own calling, I am reminded of what the Holy Spirit impressed on my heart ten years ago when I went out to Kansas City to pray at IHOP just as the prayer center was getting its start. I believe God placed the following four key calls on my life: 1.) Seek God’s face in a personal, intimate relationship, 2.) Write revelation that God reveals as I seek His face, 3.) Pray for those God has called me to love, 4.) Disciple the remnant.

The first part of my calling is very generic. All Christians are to seek Christ. But the second was unique to me. I was to write the revelation that the Spirit showed me as I seek God. The third connected to the fourth. Prayer was to fuel my ministry to disciple and train up future leaders in God’s Kingdom. All of these callings developed through the years. For example, I came up with a pretty well developed sense of what God meant by remnant.

I am seeking all four callings in some respects in my life today. None of these callings are directly related to my job as a journalist and publisher serving the forest products and logistics industries. My job provides me the resources, time and flexibility to carry out these callings.

It seems that sometimes when people are young they get all worked up over what they are going to do with their life. My suggestion is to simply give it away to God. Realize that your career path may change, but your identity as a Christian doesn’t – in time you only get to know the real you better.

I believe that more than worrying about your future career, the best thing to do is to make sure that you are living for God today. Focus on whatever path you are on to live as much as possible for God. Sure, you can prepare, study, and make smart education and lifestyle decisions. Education, training, hard work are all good things. You should think about the future. But you should not get so worked up over your decisions that you fail to realize how you walk down whatever path you take is as important as which path you choose to take.

Are you living in your divine calling? Stop to ask the Holy Spirit today to help you get to know the real you.

Is It Cool to Be Hip These Days?

Brett McCracken’s recently released a book titled Hipster Christianity: Where Church and Cool Collide. It details the stories and pitfalls of attempts to be relevant to the 20 and 30 year olds who have left church after adolescence not to return.

McCracken recently wrote in the Wall Street Journal, “If the evangelical Christian leadership thinks that ‘cool Christianity’ is a sustainable path forward, they are severely mistaken. As a twentysomething, I can say with confidence that when it comes to church, we don’t want cool as much as we want real.”

McCracken added, “If we are interested in Christianity in any sort of serious way, it is not because it’s easy or trendy or popular. It’s because Jesus himself is appealing, and what he says rings true. It’s because the world we inhabit is utterly phony, ephemeral, narcissistic, image-obsessed and sex-drenched—and we want an alternative. It’s not because we want more of the same.”

I agree with McCracken that attempts to play the hip game will always come up short for churches because they can’t out hype Hollywood or the latest must-listen-to band. And that shouldn’t be the goal. Being different in a good way is what will make a difference.

Young people want relevant, connected and authentic expressions of worship and journeying through life together. Attempts to market Jesus will only backfire. If you remember Jesus wasn’t big into marketing. He would do great miracles and then tell the recipient not to tell anyone. At the end of the day, it really comes down to helping young people feel connected to a story bigger than themselves that still seems relevant to the world in which they live.

I think that any time we set out to copy what others have done in a church setting we have to be careful. There is nothing wrong with learning from others. But you have to first know who you are as a local body of Christ and what makes you unique. A church can’t steal the identity of another congregation and expect it to work.

In the end, a local church has to first know itself in relationship to Christ before it can truly benchmark from others. If you try to benchmark first, you will only end up copying someone else’s dream.

Here are two interesting articles on the book and topic of Hipster Christianity.

http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748704111704575355311122648100.html

http://www.religiondispatches.org/books/atheologies/3142/cooler_than_thou%3A_will_hipsters_wreck_christianity/

Mosque/Islam Center Near WTC Site

It isn’t every day that I find myself agreeing with Harry Reid. But I do today based on his recent comments about building an Islamic Center two blocks from the World Trade Center site. Senator Reid called for the building’s organizer to find an alternative location in another part of Manhattan further away from the World Trade Center site. This entire thing has become too political and won’t do much to improve relations between Muslims and the average Americans.

While I agree with President Obama that the organizers have every right to build this facility since they meet all local zoning and other laws, it isn’t wise if the stated aim is to build bridges and allow for healing between Muslims and those of other faith/worldviews. According to the Associated Press, the project is headed by the Cordoba Initiative, whose aim is to improve relations between Islam and the West. This organization wants to host leadership conferences for young American Muslims, organizing programs on Arab-Jewish relations, and empowering Muslim women.

The imam behind the project is Feisal Abdul Rauf who leads a mosque in the nearby Tribeca neighborhood. He has worked with the U.S. government to improve relations with Arab countries around the world. Yet, he is also a contoversial figure for his statements.

In a CBS News interview shortly after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, Rauf said, “United States policies were an accessory to the crime that happened.” In a radio interview this year, he refused to call the radical Islamic group Hamas a terrorist organization, saying “the issue of terrorism is a very complex question.”

You can see why some might not like Feisal building a mosque/Islamic Center in this area. Nobody with any real concern for our religious freedom is seroius about stopping this project by legal means. That is why it is odd that President Obama would focus on the constitutionality of the issue when the real concern is the message it sends.

It seems that this may be the wrong place, the wrong guy, and the wrong time. Any consideration of opening the facility on September 11 is very bad form. And it seems to run contrary to the stated purpose of the organization behind the project.

As a staunch supporter of religous freedom and property rights, I would fight for the right to build this facility even though I think it is a bad idea. If I were a political leader, however, I would have the guts to say both of the above things. I would support the project against any efforts to stop it all the while trying to work with the organizers to find a more suitable location.

True, there are other mosques in the area. True this is far from completely “hallowed ground” since there are fast food restaurants, a strip club, off-track betting parlor, and other small shops in the area. But it wasn’t a Dunkin Donuts delivery guy who flew a plane into the World Trade Center either.

This is all about sensitivity. Just as Muslims expect us to respect them, there should be some concern for how locals in New York City feel. While this is mostly a local issue, it is also a national one since we all felt the weight of the towers come down in some respects.

So how far is far enough away? I don’t know. Maybe 4-6 blocks. Maybe more. That really depends on the people of New York City.

I think finding a location further away from the WTC site would be the best thing to meet their stated goals. This would also really help the healing process. At the same time, I recognize their right to freely meet and do whatever they want to with properly zoned private property.

My primary hope is that Muslims in other countries will start affording the same kind of protections to Christians, Jews and other faiths. My experience so far traveling to both the Middle East and Africa has been that Muslims are not very tolerant of other faiths. This is especially true when they are in the majority and in control of the political system.

May we be better than that in this country.