U.S. Army major: Lose evangelical Christian beliefs

An interesting article at World Net Daily deals with premillenialism and its influence on US foreign policy. It's really not an attack on evangelicals despite the title, but a warning about premillenialism.

U.S. Army major: Lose evangelical Christian beliefs

They conclude the article with a confusing reminder of link between Major Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan's attack at Fort Hood. I still do not know what that has to do with Brian L. Stuckert's paper or the belief that premillenialism is dangerous for United States foreign policy.

The Disappearance of the Middle Class

This article is great. One neat thing that Warren shows is that the average median income of a working man has not gone up since 1970. The only increase in family income is because the woman started working. What are we to do?

America Without a Middle Class

Biblical and Catholic Church Teachings on the Poor

Besides the inciting opening comments, here is an interesting essay that deals with Jesus' social teachings and the Catholic church's stance on the poor. The site, according to the copyright, was written in 2003, so it is not reactionary to the current political dialog.

Catholic Church Social Teachings: Matthew 25

On Church Unity

This quote means more to me after worshiping with my brothers and sisters in Christ from various congregations throughout Antwerp last night. Too bad we only do it a few times a year.

"Has it ever occurred to you that one hundred pianos all tuned to the same fork are automatically tuned to each other? They are of one accord by being tuned, not to each other, but to another standard to which each one must individually bow. So one hundred worshippers meeting together, each one looking away to Christ, are in heart nearer to each other than they could possibly be were they to become "unity" conscious and turn their eyes away from God to strive for closer fellowship. Social religion is perfected when private religion is purified."
- A.W. Tozer

And here are a few other quotes on unity.

In necessary things, unity
in doubtful things, liberty
in all things, charity.
-Saint Augustine

Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you, since you have given him authority over all flesh, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him. And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent…

…I have manifested your name to the people whom you gave me out of the world. Yours they were, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. Now they know that everything that you have given me is from you. For I have given them the words that you gave me, and they have received them and have come to know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me. I am praying for them. I am not praying for the world but for those whom you have given me, for they are yours. All mine are yours, and yours are mine, and I am glorified in them. And I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, keep them in your name, which you have given me, that they may be one, even as we are one…I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth.

As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world…I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me…O righteous Father, even though the world does not know you, I know you, and these know that you have sent me. I made known to them your name, and I will continue to make it known, that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.”
- Jesus

True Religion, Atheism, and the Quest for Truth

I recently read an article from Tara Stiles entitled What Would God Do For You? The article turns into an atheistic rant against Christianity. This is my response.

We can sit around and focus on all of the bad actions that religious people have done through the years as a means of discrediting religion. Likewise, we can sit around and focus on all of the bad actions that atheists have done in the twentieth century as a means of discrediting atheism. To discredit either argument based upon bad actions is intellectual disingenuousness at best.

In an article like Tara Stiles', the bad actions of "religious" people in the past are brought up as a way to trick the audience into not liking God. Nobody in their right mind would like a God that encouraged bad religious people to do bad religious actions. Religious people oftentimes take the same approach to atheism. Both belief systems have enough battle scars for those who want to discredit an idea based on battle scars to easily scoff at the other side. What this approach ignores is that every belief will be morphed and manipulated because of power hungry people, but that does not mean we should not believe anything. Should we just go around being apathetic and not believe? (And I believe atheism is believing - agnostics do not believe.)

What gives the ideas value are the good actions that people do as a result of believing them. There are many good things that Christians have done. Habitat for Humanity, American Red Cross, Salvation Army, many medical clinics, most of our hospitals, and the list can go on. Don't throw the baby out with the pooped in bath water.

Many Christians have done many stupid things, but that does not mean the gospel of Jesus is not true. There are many Christians who sincerely believe in Jesus and are trying to bring about his kingdom on earth as it is in heaven. They don't follow to use Jesus as a tool for eternal life or to make themselves feel superior to the "nonbelievers" but live their lives, like Jesus did, as an example of how we are supposed to live by serving one another.

Responsibility over Voting, and Obama

My reply to Troy's question in my last post became too long, so here it is in all its glory.

Troy stated:

That's why I didn't vote last year. I couldn't yoke myself (read: be partially responsible for) any of their policies.
Just a question: do you feel even a little responsible for what he's doing? After all, you helped him get into office. And should you feel responsible?
Not accusing, just asking.

It's a good question.

Do I feel responsible? No, not really. I have not even felt a tinge of guilt over it. I never even considered whether I was responsible until your post.

I still think he is better than McCain would have ever been. I understood going in that I was voting for a person I disagreed with on many issues. It's the nature of politics in a democracy. Now, I could choose to avoid participating altogether. I have considered that, but I just am not there yet. I think Obama proposed many good things in his campaign. Those are what I voted for. If he renigs on them, it is his fault, not mine.

It does disappoint me that he went full steam after the issues I disagreed with him on. What has disappointed me most is his not standing up to the wall street banking mentality and politics as usual in Washington. "Too big to fail" should disappear. And corporate lobbyists need to lose their control. Those were changes he acted like he would make, but instead he has only delivered the changes I held my nose over while appeasing corporate and corrupt America time and time again. In the end, I disagreed with him on some issues, but I agreed with him on more "moral" issues than I agreed with McCain on. And still do. The nature of a democracy is that we do not get the candidate we want, but the compromise candidate that we can agree on. Unfortunately, McCain eliminated the candidate I would have voted for over Obama in the primary, but I was not about to vote for McCain.

The problem is that I can't fire Obama. Although I probably wouldn't fire him yet. He has delivered on changing the attitude of our foreign policy from one that would always lead to war to one that might lead to peace. I believe strongly in talking with our international "enemies" as I try to talk to my neighborhood "enemies" in real life. Although, "enemies" more than likely don't want to talk to me.

The inevitable nature of voting for someone that is not yourself is that they will do some things you disagree with, and sometimes we even do things that we disagree with. It seems awfully similar to being part of a church. Love overcomes a multitude of sins, but all too often we just don't love one another and act like sharks with blood in the water when someone stumbles or does something we disagree with. Other people are always going to do things that I don't agree with because they are not me. We need to learn to live with people that approach things differently than ourselves. More than likely, we will even learn from them. I cannot isolate myself and surround myself with only people that do things the way I want them done if I want to have any sort of impact on the people around me.

I think our nation is at a very unusual situation due to technology. We are able to isolate ourselves into hives of similar people in a cable/digital world. We get our news from people we agree with. We only visit sites we agree with. While all the while relationships with real neighbors and co-workers dwindle. We have lost the ability to civilly interact with those we disagree with. We call them "idiots", "unpatriotic", and "ignorant". I fear that this tribal mentality will lead to more heartache and pain. We have to learn to live with people we disagree with, whether as a nation or as a people in the church.

David Ploufe, the Audacity to Win, and Obama's Presidency so Far

David Plouffe, the campaign manager for Obama's 2008 campaign, just wrote The Audacity to Win: The Inside Story and Lessons of Barack Obama's Historic Victory, examining the ideals of Obama's campaign and what he has done so far in Washington. Arianna Huffington wrote a great article on the book: Obama One Year Later: The Audacity of Winning vs. The Timidity of Governing.

For a life-time Republican who voted for change when I voted for a Democratic presidential candidate (the first time in four adult presidential elections), some of the initiatives Obama has pursued are the ones that I held my nose when voting while what I voted for has disappeared. Is what he has done a glimpse into what he really wants? Are the bigger ideas that he ran on meaningless? Or has lost his way in the Beltway?

I voted for withdrawal from Iraq and would like it to extend to Afghanistan, but he stated in his campaign that he would increase troops in Afghanistan. He's living up to that. I voted against corporate profiteering on the backs of the working class. I voted for Universal Health Care, for decisions to be made without "consulting" corporate lobbyists, for a line by line examination of the budget that would cut government spending and head us in the direction of a balanced budget, and a change in approach to foreign policy. Only the last has he given us.

I am pretty sure President McCain would increase troop levels in Afghanistan after having tamed Iraq, be against the public option in a health care policy, and would have cut spending. McCain, like Obama, likes Cap and Trade. A corporate man, Geithner, is on the cabinet, so I don't see how McCain could do any worse. Did I only get hate crime laws, extension of abortions, embryonic stem cell research, and another increase in taxing smokers when I helped elect Obama?

There are valid alternatives to stem cell research other than the much heralded embryonic stem cell research. Crime should be punished based on actions rather than thoughts, even if the thoughts are horrid. Smokers, even if it is for something good like health care for kids, should not carry an increased burden to pay for the health care of this nation's children. And no federal dollars should go to abortions because there are so many in this nation against them. Yet that is what we have received so far from the Obama presidency.

Arianna's article reminded me why I voted for Obama. I hope the book reminds Obama why he wanted to be President. It even made me believe once again that Washington could be changed. That our nation could head down a different political path and be better.

Updated Favorite Books - Amazon Store

I updated my favorite books in my Amazon store.

And I am on vacation this week, planned on doing nothing, but might be buying a house instead.

Restoring the Early Church, Reliance on Scripture, and Achieving Unity

Almost every individual who has had a significant impact on the kingdom since the time of Jesus has had a desire to restore the New Testament church; no group or individual has the corner on restoration although they might each use unique language to express this idea. We can look at the changes Luther made and notice that he did not go far enough. The same is true with every reformer. Even the people who planted the church you attend did not go far enough, and neither will we in our efforts to bring about God's will. What makes these church planters and reformers great was their ability to figure out how to live in the culture that surrounded them and share the good news of the kingdom in a relevant way. They did not isolate themselves from the culture, yet they refused to be conformed. In the end, we should be thankful that they allowed the Holy Spirit to transform them to impact their culture.

Unfortunately, our natural tendency as followers of Jesus and bodies of believers is to stray away from that simple church where the Jesus is the head. We seem to inevitably follow men, fall in love with methods that began with a purpose yet continue meaninglessly on, and develop doctrines that are viewed as essential but are not that significant. The upside to this is that we always have room to restore the early church practices and teachings in our generation. From our perspective, we have the advantage of building on and learning from two thousand years of reformers who have tried to move us in that direction. Unfortunately, we can see through a study of history that each generation have great omissions when it comes to restoring the early church. It is humbling to acknowledge that we will have great omissions of our own that are not obvious to us. But that does not mean we should give up on restoring the early church; it just means that we should not be prideful and believe we have established the perfect church without any useless methods or wrong doctrines. We need to serve Jesus to the best of our abilities, pass the church on to the next generation in a better state than when we joined it, and allow room for mistakes and grace along the way.

When looking at historical and modern-day reformers, we all too often have the tendency to copy a program, rip off a teaching, or model our lives after theirs. We don't have to reinvent the wheel, but we also need to realize that God made us the way we are to bring about his will in the time we are living. We need to mimic the reformers desire for unity and their passion, not their methods. They were made for and were living in a particular place and time. Their causes and efforts were significant, yet their methods are outdated because time has moved on and the conversation has changed.

We need to be willing to change yet hold firmly to a passion to have unity based on the authority of Scripture. That is easier to write than to actually implement because we frequently confuse our interpretations of Scripture with Scripture itself. We isolate ourselves with people who share our beliefs while ignoring and condemning those who disagree. This results in the development of pride and arrogance in our understanding of Scripture. It seems to be rare indeed to find a person that you can show Scripture to who will then go home, study that Scripture, and change their beliefs according to what the Bible said rather than what they had always been taught. But that is the type of people we need to be if we want to have any sort of unity. Whether you believe that God is still speaking today or whether he stopped interacting with us at the final swipe of the apostle John's quill, we can all agree that if the Bible says something, then we need to believe that teaching and change our lives to reflect it.

It seems amazingly easy to have unity with those who are loving and willing to transform their beliefs to the teachings of Scripture. It is impossible to have unity with those who base their beliefs on traditional doctrines, whether handed down through a written handbook or expressed through oral traditions. Even if we would agree with one another on every point at one time, we would be left with no no room for growth. In these types of situations, people will not be willing to reconsider their beliefs or examine an old thought that has been overlooked. They will go around believing what they were told and always read the Scripture in the light they were given.

The first thing to be tossed out the door in a system based on traditional doctrines is intellectual integrity. Intellectual integrity is thrown out for intellectual conformity. The end result becomes an environment of intellectual totalitarianism. God does not desire us to be identical twins; he wants us to be brothers and sisters. True spiritual unity happens when we are willing to submit ourselves to Jesus, the Spirit, and the written word of God to transform our minds and actions into who God intends for us to be. We don't need uniformity; we need unity!


Some quotes that inspired this post:

You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you. Romans 8:9-11 (ESV).

Probably the greatest hurdle which Centrist and Rightists among the Disciples will have to take in this eventual confrontation with the 'denominational world' is admission of the fact that their traditional presentation of 'the plea' is outmoded and that they do not have all the answers to the present ecumenical situation. Many of them have become enmeshed in controversies involving outworn shibboleths which had meaning in the day they were created, but some of which are a 'foreign language' now (James Deforest Murch, Christians Only: A History of the Restoration Movement, 366).

There must be admission that the New Testament church has not yet been perfectly restored anywhere within the Restoration movement. The division into three bodies and the lack of complete unity within each of them are positive proof that the Disciples have yet much to learn about what it takes to realize the answer to Christ's prayer in John 17. Moderate persons are saying now that this situation calls for penitential prayer and the demonstration of sincere repentance. A new spirit of humilty must be born in those who would sit down with men in other communions and talk of the things of the kingdom. The guidance of the Holy Spirit must be sought in discovering a right approace to the modern ecumenical problem...Literally millions of Christians are willign to sit down in such mutuality of spirit today, but they will not tolerate a holier-than-thou attitude from a people who have manifestly fallen far short of perfection in their plea for and practice of unity (Murch, 366-367).

Brief Thoughts on Politics in Washington - Blue Dogs, Obama, and the Republicans

Obama should not be worried about the Blue Dogs. The Democratic Blue Dogs claim to be the center of American politics, but the center seems to always be the ones bought and paid for by Corporate America. Obama should be worried about all of us who voted Democrat for the first time (after a short lifetime of voting for the Republican candidate) because we thought he could make a difference. We voted for health care for all Americans. We voted for a halt to the corporate takeover of America. We voted for peace. We voted for the end of politics as usual in Washington.

Unfortunately, so far, all he has shown us is the same old politics as normal. I want an America that I can believe will have a better future and make the world better, not an America controlled by corporations, who profit off of war, health care, and friendly corporate laws. That's why I voted Obama, and he needs to show me that is what he is about if he wants to keep me voting Democrat.

And I don't think I am alone.

In the end, I would prefer Republican solutions over no solutions. Staying the same is not going to fix anything. Staying the same is not a solution in these circumstances.

And like many other Republicans, I became disillusioned with them, but I did not move into the Blue Dog camp. If they are claiming those of us who voted Democrat for our first time as their victory, they are sorely mistaken. Back in the 90s, it seemed that the Democrats only stood against issues while the Republicans had a plan. Now, it seems like the Republicans only stand against issues while the Democrats have a plan. We'll see if they actually have that plan. There is nothing like having power and control to show what you really believe. And the Blue Dogs just seem to believe in raising funds for their campaigns by making certain political stances.

McCain ran, at least in my area, on "vote against Obama." I don't want to vote against something; I want to vote for something! And with America, I don't want to be against something. I want to be for something!

A Different Approach to Taxes in Germany

Some rich Germans have formed an organization to ask their government to increase their taxes. Are these people nuts? Or just socially responsible?

Rich Germans demand higher taxes

I have heard the response lately that taxes are stealing. It's taking money from the wealthy to give to the poor. Jesus had the opportunity to describe them as such and did not categorize taxes as stealing. He just said, "Give to Caesar what is Caesar's and to God what is God's." This approach by the wealthy Germans throws that argument completely on its head. They want to be taxed.

Miracles, Mary, Perceptions, Getting Scared, and God's Plan for our Lives

Seeing an angel appear at the foot of my bed and speak to me would be terrifying. I’m a little paranoid and am scared to death of certain things. This year, while mowing, I encountered a garter snake and screamed like a grown man. I was riding my mower, noticed a snake crawling beside me, and screamed at the top of my lungs. I didn’t even know that I was scared of snakes, but I guess I am.

During my freshman year of college, I would go to bed before my roommate, Josh. He would stay up and watch Letterman, Conan O’Brien, or work on homework. I was usually in bed by 11. He had a tendency to leave the door unlocked. One night I woke up from someone tapping me on the shoulder. I rolled over, expecting it to be Josh, and looked to see what he wanted. What I saw was not Josh. Instead, I encountered a big, giant, scary mask staring me in the face and was greeted by a loud, “Boo!” I sat up in my bed and screamed at the top of my lungs. That night the two big 6’10” linemen - that’s the big guy position in football for those who don’t follow football – decided to sneak into all the unlocked rooms and scare people. As I was laying there in my bed, trying to calm my heart beat down, I could hear screams of fellow students previously asleep behind unlocked doors echo down the hallway.

Apparently Jesus’ mother Mary had a similar reaction to Gabriel, for Gabriel’s initial response to Mary was, “Do not be afraid.” Encountering an unexpected person in what is supposed to be a safe place would cause some fear. But Gabriel was there, not to terrify her, but to tell her that she had found favor with God and would be blessed by him.

So what was the big blessing. You know it. Mary, being a virgin who was engaged, would become pregnant. Imagine the conversation between Joseph and Mary. “So Mary, you say that you are pregnant from the Holy Spirit? Sure.” As we see in the book of Matthew, he was going to divorce her over her pregnancy. It took an angel of the Lord to convince him not to. Now, he was left to decide whether Mary had some very good friends talented in special effects or whether the message from the angel was the real thing.

A lot of times, God’s blessings can be viewed either positively or negatively. Here was Mary, pregnant and a virgin. If she had a negative outlook on life, she would have said, “I can’t believe this. It ruins my wedding night. I was saving myself from Joseph, now he won’t even believe me that I am pregnant because I found favor with God. What kind of blessing is this anyway? Now, all my neighbors and friends will also think I’m a slut.” Even after Joseph received the message from an angel, I am sure the neighbors and friends still thought Mary was unfaithful. Who, in their right mind, would believe that God impregnated a woman?

But Mary did. Joseph did. Miracles are seldom seen by others as being miraculous, but those who experience them know what they are. We can sit around, be Mr. or Mrs. Negativity, and condemn all of the great miracles people believe that God has done in their lives. We can say miracles are no longer done because we don’t experience them, but that would be allowing our experience to speak rather than Scripture. A respected professor and minister in the non-instrumental churches of Christ made a comment to me this year: “We have made the mistake of saying miracles were gone with Apostles.” I know Lindsay and I have experienced tremendous blessings from God. The same with the church we are part of. People outside of God would just say that they were coincidences. I am baffled by how many “coincidences” Christians, who are willing to give their lives over to God, experience.

Jesus would be the result of Mary's sacrifice; a sacrifice she would view as a blessing. The king of the long-awaited Kingdom of God would finally come. The Messiah that the Jews had been waiting for and that the world needed. And this blessing would come through Mary, a woman who had her world rocked. She was pregnant before being married, Jesus' arrival would not be painless, and raising him would change her life. But in the process, her sacrificing her own rights allowed the world to be changed. That is an essential characteristic of those who are used by God; they have to be willing to be a sacrifice.

I think Mary’s story tells it best. She sacrificed her plans for her future for the sake of God’s plan for her. When we encounter God and allow him to direct our lives, that is usually what happens. We cannot go on living the way we have always lived if we want to be who God wants us to be. And that is true whether we have been following God our whole life or are just starting to take our first steps. God’s plans will crush our own plans, but that’s okay. When we allow that to happen, our lives, and our world is a better place. We have to realize that. God’s plan for our life is better than our own.

The Desert Cross, World War I, and the Justification of War

The Sojourners posted a great, brief article and a Colbert clip on the Desert Cross controversy.

How the Desert Cross once looked:

How it looks now:

I find it disturbing for a cross to be a war memorial, especially during WWI in which both sides claimed to on the God's side.

During WWI, an American preacher gave a passionate sermon in which he said, “ It is God who has summoned us to this war. It is his war we are fighting...the greatest in history—the holiest. It is in the profoundest and truest sense a Holy War....Yes, it is Christ, the king of Righteousness, who calls us to grapple in deadly strife with this unholy and blasphemous power [Germany].” The dilemma with a statement such as this is that “inscribed on the belts and helmets of the men fighting for this 'unholy and blasphemous power' was the slogan, 'Gott mit uns' (God [be] with us), and their greatest wartime motto, inscribed on scores of monuments to their dead, to be covered by the ruins of a second World War was, 'Fuer Gott und Vaterland' (for God and country). On whose side was God?” [1].

On whose side was God?

One of the dilemmas of war is that every side believes they are on the morally righteous side. Albert Keim and Grant Stoltzfus, two prominent CO historians, wrote:
This view [just war]...is today the essence of the war ethic of most Christian groups. Implicitly, of course, it contains an alternative to war; if the war to be waged is an unjust war, the Christian alternative is not to participate. Unfortunately very few Christians through the centuries have rejected war on the grounds that it was unjust. Virtually all wars have been 'just' wars [2].
WWI, in the end, had no righteous winner. Americans were not quick to stand up and declare the war a just war although it was sold to them as such. Dr. Harry Elmer Barnes, a historian from Columbia University, noted that none of the stated reasons for entering the first world war were achieved. Americans had been sold a basket of lofty ideals that more resembled deception after the war. Prior to WWII, Barnes wrote:
We are all familiar enough with the myths that we believed in the first war. We were taught that our intervention was the only thing that could prevent Germany from conquering the world. We were informed that we were saving the world from further carnage and the rule of brute force. Finally, we were led to believe that we were fighting for noble ideals which would set up a new era in human civilization. On every point our experience in the first World War proved a tragic disappointment and disillusionment...By entering the first World War we did not save the world. We only made possible the smashing victory of the Allies which produced the fatal peace treaties...Not a single major ideal of wartime was realized [3].
This animosity toward war because of the false bag of goods sold during WWI crept up in the discussions prior to America entering WWII. The dominant thought against joining another war in Europe raged through America in the late 30s. Former President Hoover gave a statement in a speech on peace that was representative of the thoughts of many Americans in 1939 prior to the bombing of Pearl Harbor and the United States entry into WWII:
Last night I referred to the suffering of women and children in the Great War...For years it was my sole occupation to care for the homeless, the foodless, the frightened, and the helpless. I have witnessed their sufferings in twenty nations. And when one speaks to me of war, I do not see the glorious parade of troops marching to the tunes of gay music. I do not think of great statesmen planning and worrying in their chancelleries. Nor do I think of those dazzling chambers where the peacemakers of the world meet to settle the affairs of mankind. I see the faces of hungry, despaired, and terrorized women and children. These are the real victims of modern war. The violence of war is year by year falling more and more horribly upon the civilian populations. Starvation by blockade and killing from the air have become weapons of attack in modern war. At least they have become methods of reprisals. Put bluntly that means wholesale killing of women and children [4].
War had been revealed during WWI as a new beast in the modern age with advanced military technology. In war, especially with air warfare, women and children die. Bombs did not distinguish between the warrior and the civilian. Blockades caused advanced industrial societies to starve since much of their food needs to be imported. The victims of this starvation were not the military or government leaders; they would be first in line to receive food. “All over Europe it was the women and children who, weakened from scanty food supplies, died not in hundreds of thousands but in millions” [5]. The new weapons of war—bombing, blockading, and complete mobilization of industrial society—caused whole societies rather than just the men to become participants and victims in war [6].

In modern warfare, can any war be just?

[1] Quoted in Mennonite General Conference, Peace Problems Committee, The Churches and War, (Scottdale, PA: Mennonite Publishing House, 1956), 16.

[2] Albert Keim and Grant Stoltzfus, The Politics of Conscience, Scottdale, PA: Herald Press, 1988, 19.

[3] Dr. Harry Elmer Barnes, Common Sense Neutrality, ed. Paul Comly French ( New York: Hastings House, 1939), 14-15.

[4] President Herbert Hoover, Common Sense Neutrality, ed. Paul Comly French ( New York: Hastings House, 1939), 110-111.

[5] Ibid, 111.

[6] Ibid, 111-113

Behavioral Science, Following God, and Sacrifice

Behavioral Science is the study of human behavior and what influences people to make the decisions they make. By understanding what makes people decide how they use their resources and what they do with their time, politicians, economists, marketing experts and their cohorts develop theories which translate into practices to try and mold us into what they want us to be. People usually make decisions based on three prevailing thoughts.

1. Will it help me in the present? We want instant gratification. A better future at the cost of the present is not worth a less comfortable present for a better future.

2.What is the chance of failure or have I experienced failure trying it in the past? Failures outweigh success and prevent many from moving.

3.Will it mean that I have to change? If I have to change, I don’t want to do it.

These prevailing thoughts that typically shape our decision making will cause us to make decisions that will inevitably lead to stagnation and death. And our natural tendencies will be exploited by those who want us to be what they want us to be.

When we make decisions, we need to not ask, “Will it help me in the present? What is the chance of failure? Or will it mean that I have to change?” Instead of letting our human tendencies dictate our decisions, what we need to ask is, “What does God want me to do?” God plans long-term, and sometimes his plan might not coincide with the worldly view of success. I might have to sacrifice today to be who he wants me to be tomorrow to bring about the changes that he wants to bring about. I need to realize that success is intimacy with God rather than bigger toys or more entertainment, although we might be blessed with those things. But we must realize that success will come with failures. We will have setbacks. And to continue to grow into the person that God wants, change is inevitable. We cannot be more of who he wants us to be and remain who we are. Those who do not continue to change their lives are on the way to spiritual death. We are either growing or dying. Life is about consistent change. And God is a God of change.

The Bible is a book of changes. In reading it, we get front row seats to see God attempt to shape people, nations, and churches into who he wants them to be. We see faithful people who follow him. We see villains who refuse his guidance only to follow their own desires. The truly faithful discarded the concerns of the moment, their worries about failure, and the human tendency to be hesitant about change, so that they could become who God wanted them to be.

Finding a Great Commentary

In reading Paul Wright's Justification: God's Plan & Paul's Vision, he encouraged students to not buy commentary series but to buy the best commentaries out there on each individual book. For the amount of money most students of the Bible have, it is prudent to make each purchase worthy of that money. I previously bought the Tyndale Bible Commentaries and some of the books are junk. Wright argued that the best writers usually never work together, and my experience has shown that to be right.

I was at a loss on how to discover what commentary was the best one for each book. Even my smart friends would not know what were the best commentaries outside of their specific fields. Then this morning, I randomly ran across a site through searching on the Tower of Babel, of all things, that answered this problem.


At Best Commentaries, they have the commentaries sorted by the book they address along with user ratings for each book. They can also be sorted by academic level: pastoral, technical, devotional, or special study.

Now the system is not flawless because it is based on user reviews and some unscrupulous commentator could get all of his friends to give him a good review like I did with Isaac's Jones Soda photo years back, which catapulted him into the top ten for weeks. And there is the hazard of people giving reviews who just like a guy but do not really know if his commentary is worthy of a good review.

I notice that Paul Kissling's Genesis (The College Press Niv Commentary. Old Testament Series) has no reviews.

Anyway, this site is a step in the right direction. It probably does not save me from emailing a few friends and asking for reliable commentaries, but it will help.

A Reason To Celebrate - The Falling Dollar Is Not All That Bad

Drudge keeps hyping the falling dollar as a bad thing. Bernanke is doing a bad job because of the declining dollar. (Can't we stick to him doing a bad job by being in bed with the banks.) I have trouble seeing how a declining dollar is bad. I even googled it to see what the negative ramifications were and couldn't really find any besides inflation. Inflation would be good for a debt-strapped country as long as income increases with inflation. That is what I like the most. My debt and the American government's debt will be relatively less if the dollar is worth less. That would also make my student loans worth less. Deflation, on the other hand, would be a nightmare making all of our debt worth relatively more.

20 Reasons Why a Falling Dollar Isn’t Necessarily a Bad Thing

I think Drudge wants me to think, "Ooh, the dollar is falling. That's bad. And Obama is bad because he is in charge." But nobody has explained why it is bad. Now I understand it would be bad if I was planning on buying all my Christmas toys from China this year like I do every year, planning a vacation to Europe, or going out to buy some luxury goods from abroad. Otherwise, the falling dollar seems like a good thing.

Ray Suarez interviewed two economists in 2004 about the falling dollar. They thought it was a good thing. In this case, I will concur with the experts.

So should Obama should be praised that he is making the dollar decline? Or do we just want to have the highest priced currency because we like to be on top? Personally, we need jobs and the dollar falling might make those foreign jobs come back. It would make our labor relatively cheaper compared to other nations.

How a Falling Dollar Affects the US and the Global Economy

So in the end, we should celebrate the falling dollar. I really don't see a down side unless you are addicted to BMWs and oil. Oh, oil.

An Examination of Spiritual Fasting

“Where are the people today who will respond to the call of Christ? Have we become so accustomed to ‘cheap grace’ that we instinctively shy away from more demanding calls to obedience? ‘Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross.’ Why has the giving of money, for example, been unquestionably recognized as an element in Christian devotion and fasting so disputed? Certainly we have as much, if not more, evidence from the Bible for fasting as we have for giving. Perhaps in our affluent society fasting involves a far larger sacrifice than the giving of money” (Foster, 54).

When I read through the Bible, I am amazed at the significance and the power of fasting. For some reason, that I cannot explain, prayer, when combined with fasting, produces tremendous results. It makes me wonder why we have forgotten this practice that we can see Moses, Paul, Elijah, Daniel, and Jesus exercised. Richard Foster, in his classic book Celebration of Discipline: The Path to Spiritual Growth, pointed out that from 1861 to 1954 nobody published a single book in America on religious fasting (Foster, 47).

In an attempt at correction, we have overreacted to the abuses in the past and have decided to no longer fast. In the Middle Ages, fasting was extremely popular, mandatory in many circles, and people would show off their fasting prowess. The gaudiness of fasting was and still is overwhelming. Nobody wants an arrogant faster, so the pendulum swung back and we have avoided the external practice of fasting altogether. Some will say, "Nobody needs to fast anyway. It is not essential for us to be saved." But that misses the point. Fasting is not about being saved, it is about growing closer to God. Although fasting is gaining steam in the minds and practice of many Christians, I have yet to really see a church take hold of the practice and seek God's will for their church through it. I hope that will not be the case in a year.

So why have we stopped fasting? I have compiled a list of reasons from Foster's book and a book by Dean Trune entitled The Path Toward Passion: Nine Disciplines That Connect Your Heart to God's.

Reasons that we have stopped fasting (taken from Foster and Trune):
  • “With the decline of the inward reality of the Christian faith, an increasing tendency to stress the only thing left, the outward form, developed. And whenever there is a form devoid of spiritual power, law will take over because law always carries with it a sense of security and manipulative power…Modern culture reacts strongly to these excesses and tends to confuse fasting with mortification” (Foster, 47).
  • We are taught by the medical world that fasting is unhealthy, so I will give this disclaimer. Consult your doctor before fasting.
  • We are not taught about fasting. It is a subject most churches are silent about.
  • If we would be honest with ourselves, we are addicted to food.
  • We are spiritually lazy.
John Wesley said, “Some have exalted religious fasting beyond all Scripture and reason; and others have utterly disregarded it.” Yet Wesley turned around and would not ordain a Methodist minister who did not fast two days a week. We have the tendency to take a good practice and make it a law. When we do that - when we fast out of obligation rather than passion - we remove all the power from the practice. Fasting needs to not be about me receiving what I want but about God bringing about what he wants.

A biblical fast is for spiritual reasons. We might quit eating something for a period of time or remove something completely from our diet for health reasons; those actions, although fine, are not a biblical fast. A biblical fast is where we acknowledge our spiritual dependency and need for God through the physical action of abstaining from food.

Some Great Stories of the Power of Fasting

“The king of Britain called for a day of solemn prayer and fasting because of a threatened invasion by the French in 1756. On February 6 John Wesley recorded in his Journal, ‘The fast day was a glorious day, such as London has scarce seen since the Restoration. Every church in the city was more than full, and a solemn seriousness sat on every face. Surely God heareth prayer, and there will yet be a lengthening of our tranquility.’ In a footnote he wrote, ‘Humility was turned into national rejoicing for the threatened invasion by the French was averted’” (Foster, 50).

“In his book Shaping History through Prayer and Fasting, Derek Prince relates how God prompted him to organize a day of prayer and fasting in England after World War II. He had heard of Joseph Stalin’s plan to purge Russia by killing thousands of Jews. Many people in England joined Prince on a particular Thursday by praying for God to stop the plan to kill Jews. Two weeks later, to the day, God stopped the planned killings. Stalin had a heart attack and died” (Trune, 92)

Key Bible Verses on Fasting

Leviticus 23:26-32 – The Lord established a corporate fast for the Day of Atonement.

Deuteronomy 9:9 – When Moses received the Ten Commandments, he fasted for forty days without food and water. This fast needed supernatural intervention.

1 Kings 19:8 – Elijah fasted for forty days prior to encountering God and receiving news on who to anoint as king of Syria and Israel and the successor of his ministry.

2 Chronicles 20:1-23 – Jehosophat called Judah to fast for God’s protection in the invasion of the Moabites and the Ammonites.

Ezra 8:21-23 – Ezra’s group fasted because Ezra did not want to ask for the king’s help because he has told the king “The hand of our God is for good on all who seek him, and the power of his wrath is against all who forsake him.” The purpose of the fast was to humble themselves and seek a safe journey.

Esther 4:16-17 – Esther and all of the Jews that participated fasted for three days from food and water. This was a dire time for the Jews.

Psalm 35:11-14 – David “afflicted” himself with fasting when he was being verbally attacked by others.

Psalm 69:9-12 – David writes that fasting was to humble his soul and a result of mourning.

Isaiah 58 – True and false fasting. A true fast is not just abstaining from food but looking at bringing about God’s will to the world around us.

I will take a break from the Bible verses to share a ridiculous fast that an acquaintance of mine did. For Lent he gave up pop. We were out and he ordered a beer because he could not drink pop. He drank a lot more beer during Lent that year. What a ridiculous fast.

Daniel 10:3 – Daniel did a three week fast from delicacies, meat, wine, and anointing himself. This was induced by mourning and led to him having a vision.

Joel 2:12-17 – The Lord calls on His people to have a corporate fast to repent of their sins.

Zechariah 7:4-5 – We do not fast for ourselves but for God. A proper fast is a focus on God and his will.

Zechariah 8:19 – By the time this was written Israel had four regular fasts. The Lord said that the fasts should be “seasons of joy and gladness and cheerful feasts.”

Matthew 4:4 – During Jesus’ forty day fast, he answered Satan and said that his food is not the food of this world but “every word that comes from the mouth of God.”

Matthew 6:16-18 – Jesus’ teaching on fasting. He used the phrase “When you fast.” Fasting is not to be done for public accolades but for worship of God.

Matthew 9:14-15 – Jesus says that his disciples will fast when he is gone.

Luke 2:36-38 – Anna worshiped with fasting.

Luke 4:1-13 – Jesus fasted from food for forty days and was tempted during his fast.

Luke 18:9-14 – It was common for the Pharisees to fast twice a week. This is not a condemnation of the fasting but of the Pharisee showing off his spiritual practices.

John 4:31-38 – To do God’s will and accomplish his work was Jesus’ food. We need to have the same attitude.

Acts 9:9 – Paul did a total fast after meeting Jesus on the road to Damascus.

Acts 13:2-3 – They church at Antioch fasted and were told to send out Barnabas and Paul.

Acts 14:23 – Paul and Barnabas committed the elders to the Lord with prayer and fasting.

Colossians 1:15-20 – This verse does not mention fasting, but a fast is a recognition that there is a spiritual reality and God is in control. In a fast, we feed, not on food for our body, but on food for our soul.

Some Practical Tips on Fasting

Consult your doctor and see if it will kill you.

Start light. If you’ve never fasted just do lunch and supper one day and drink juices while fasting.

Then after a few weeks, move on to a complete food fast for a day. All you drink is water.

After, that you can decide what it is you are being tugged to. Should you fast once a day every week for a few years? Should you go on and try an extended fast?

Remember you won’t start starving, as long as you are healthy, until about 21 days into a fast. The first three days of an extended fast are the worst. The body is cleansing. Experts say to start eating again once you start to feel hunger pangs after 21 days.

If you think I missed a key verse or you have a great testimony concerning fasting, please share in the comments.

Quotes on Community

I found a page with a lot of great quotes on Christian community. It took me a while to find a good site, so I thought I would post it here.

The Importance of Intentional Community

Using Potholes Search - How to Create Your own Search Engine in Firefox and IE8

Follow these easy steps and you can be searching all the time using the Potholes search from the convenience of your browser no matter where you are on the internet.

Pothole Search is a Google search engine that searches the entire web, not just my site. It is just like searching Google. I will get paid for searches through it by Google. So if you want to search Google but have some of the search proceeds go to the lovely author of Potholes, then follow these easy steps. If you want, you can slightly tweak these steps to do the same for search engines on your own sites.

In Firefox:

1) Add The Add to Search Bar extension.

2) On this page, right click on the empty search box in the top right and select "add to search bar." Name it whatever you want.

3) Click on the tiny arrow next to the search icon, select "manage search engines", and move "Pothole search" to up to the top.

That's it! Life is good.

In IE8:

1) Go to IE's AddOn Gallery:

2) Paste this in the URL: http://www.google.com/cse?cx=partner-pub-6924988631815180%3Ad31e6dsedmh&ie=ISO-8859-1&q=TEST&sa=Search

3) Put whatever you want in the Name. I used Pothole Search.

4) Click "Install Search Provider" and you are done.

That's it. Life is still good.

Article On Leadership - Economist on Intel and Andrew Grove - Changing Established Churces to Be Focused Outwardly

This article deals with being a great leader and Andrew Grove's thoughts on how the government not allowing companies to fail is a bad thing in the long run.

Paranoid Survivor: Andrew Grove, the former boss of Intel, believes other fields can learn from the chipmaking industry that he helped bring into being.
"Computer firms come and go all the time, such is the pace of innovation in the industry. Yet for some reason this healthy attitude towards creative destruction is not shared by other industries."

"Every company will face a confluence of internal and external forces, often unanticipated, that will conspire to make an existing business strategy unviable."

"He launched the “Intel Inside” campaign, which marketed microprocessor chips directly to consumers, starting in 1991. This incensed his rivals and his immediate customers, the computer-makers, but the strong demand for Intel’s new Pentium chip showed that the strategy had worked."

"Dr Grove, however, insists that it was his experience at City College, where talent and hard work were rewarded and where students challenged their professors without concern for rank, that impressed upon him the value of meritocracy....The meritocratic culture he created at Intel then helped it attract the best talent in the industry."
This last point stuck with me the most. Churches tend to develop a culture that rewards those who have been there the longest and who give the most money. That would go completely against the approach that Grove took to make Intel successful. A healthy church is one that takes any good idea no matter where it came from and allows gifting to decide who gets to serve rather than seniority or time at the church. This is why church plants grow faster than established churches. An established church will already have all the "prominent" positions filled and will already know who they listen to as their idea people. If you aren't in the circle of the prominent or one of the reputable idea people, you will be ignored. They will gladly plug you into one of their cookie cutter ministries, but you better fit the mold. An open church, which most church plants are naturally, allows those with gifting to serve and implements any new idea that is useful in reaching out. Established churches need to figure out how to open things up and allow God, through the people He has gifted, to lead rather than allow the Old Boys' Club to continue on.

In pointing out that Intel became successful when it started marketing to the end consumer rather than marketing to computer manufacturers who actually made the decision to put the chips in computers, I was struck at the difference between a church that "does church" for those already in the pews compared to a church that is willing to do whatever it takes to share the Gospel to all. The former approach always leads to stagnation and death if not changed. The latter leads to life and vitality. Although you might lose some of the Christians who do not want to reach out along the way, a church that is focused on outreach will always be blessed more than an inwardly-focused church.

There might be problems in the immediate future when an established church changes focus, but change is necessary if we want to see the trend of dying churches stopped and enter into an era of vibrant local churches throughout the communities around us. It's either change or remain stagnant and die. Many are in churches that face this decision, and it is not an easy decision to make. People who have been catered to, have always heard the messages they wanted to hear on their pet doctrines that would not challenge them, and have controlled what is done in the church do not take kindly to a church changing its focus from pleasing the pew sitters to loving the community. The key is letting God control what we do rather than any person in the pew, no matter how much they have paid for that seat. It's His Church; it's His mission; He will provide what we need to fulfill that task if we are open to Him, His changes, and His will.

We Don't Rob God, We Rob Ourselves

We don’t rob God of anything when we don’t do His will. He does not need us to do His will. God does not sit around and wonder how He is going to get His will done. He does not sit up in heaven saying that He needs Regan to be faithful or else He cannot achieve what He wants. No, He lives in our hearts trying to guide us to do His will because He knows that His will is what is best for our lives. We only rob ourselves when we live selfishly outside of God’s will. God has blessings in store for us. He has a great life planned for us. When we live outside of His will, we rob ourselves of that blessing.

I can go on living life the way I want and I will receive what I deserve through my own merits. For some of us that might not be much; for others, they can earn the possessions of this world and live the high life. Or I can live life as a child of the King and get what I do not deserve because of His merits. When I realize that I am His child and He wants to take care of me like I want to take care of my children, then I will want to please Him like a child wants to please their mom and dad. His love is amazing. And his grace is also amazing.

Religion, including Jesus’ Church, has a tendency to be pulled toward a culture of ungrace. One in which you need to appear perfect in order to serve in any meaningful capacity; a culture where we will hold your mistakes against you until you die. The place that should have the most grace in whole world has morphed into a place where sinners – but only those who are caught – are spiritually shot and killed. Is that really what God intended His family to be like? My children make mistakes and they screw up just like I do as a child of my parents, but my parents still accept me as their own. We all make mistakes, but God still accepts each of us as His own. It is sometimes difficult for people to realize this because we are surrounded by so many dysfunctional homes where a parents’ love has to be earned rather than it being freely given. But God freely gives.

So when we come to a warning in the Bible to not behave in a certain way, it is not a command from a god that does not have our best interests at heart. It is a command from a loving Father who wants us to be all that He intends for us to be. I don’t know what God has in store for everyone that reads this. He might want someone to change their community by helping the poor in incredible ways. He might want you to invest your life investing in children so that they can reach their God-given potential. He might have a widow in mind for you to give love and friendship to. He might intend for you to be a silent prayer warrior empowering all of the ministries around you.

But know that God has a greatness in store for each of us. What parent does not want their children to be great? He has a plan for each one of us. However, we need to make sure that we allow God to define what greatness is rather than swallow the definition this world shoves into our mind through commercials, entertainment, and those who have yet to realize God’s purpose for their life. The world tells me that greatness is wealth and power. God tells me that greatness is humility and love. Some, including myself on bad days, will look at the wealthy and powerful and say that they have greatness and will strive to have greatness the world’s way. But that path will only lead to a temporary greatness, a greatness that will lead to a dead end.

We need to surrender ourselves to our loving Father and let Him shape us into the greatness He wants us to be. That is a greatness that will last.

Complete Surrender Versus Our Pharisaical Tendencies

Look at me! I am a SuperChristian. I pray. I fast. I read my Bible daily. I give more than my ten percent because of the missions I support. I am the authority on all matters of Scripture. I believe that there is one way to follow God. If you're in doubt of what that way is, just ask me. I'm generous and will gladly share some of my time to enlighten you. Even if you're not interested, I think I will take some time out to enlighten you. For I am SuperChristian!

None of us are as extreme as the fictitious SuperChristian, but we each have a tendency to be religious for the wrong reasons. Whether it is to show off our own spiritual progress or to control others, we sometimes morph our faith into a religion. It becomes even more destructive when a group of SuperChristians assemble to do church - rather than be church - for all the wrong reasons. Lives are ruined; faith is squashed; and seekers have their seeking extinguished.

If we have not completely surrendered our hearts to Christ – if we just go through a few religious rituals or even a lot of religious rituals, then we are no better than the Pharisees. The Pharisees, individuals from one of the religious groups of Jesus’ time, thought they would have been the people who would have listened to the prophets instead of killing them, but then they led the charge to kill Jesus, the prophet of their time. Like the Pharisees, we often think they we every “I” dotted and every “t” crossed; we have no need to be open to anything else because we have it all figured out.

But without humility and a complete surrender to Jesus, we are creating a religion that we like rather than submitting ourselves to Jesus and the Spirit to live out the faith that He wants. When it is about me and how great I am, I am tempted to be like the Pharisees. My selfish side wants to appear perfect and have the crowds follow me without really humbling myself and serving them. It wants to fast, give to my local church, support missions, pray, and read the Bible while making sure that everyone knows how well I do those spiritual practices. It wants to appear that I help people without really ever making a sacrifice. I have more than a little Pharisee in me. We all do if we are honest with ourselves.

The writers of the Gospels would not have spent so much time telling us about Jesus’ conflicts with the Pharisees if we all didn’t harbor a pharisaical tendency, the tendency to love religion or religious practices more than God Himself. But Jesus gave the answer to the problem, and that is humility. He warned us of this tendency. Our response should be to keep examining ourselves. Am I doing this religious act for God or for man’s glory? Am I truly seeking God and His Kingdom with my whole heart or am I seeking my kingdom and my will? Am I just going through religious motions or do I love God with my whole being? God does not want empty religious rituals; he wants every ounce of us.

Woe to you who desire the day of the LORD! Why would you have the day of the LORD? It is darkness, and not light, as if a man fled from a lion, and a bear met him, or went into the house and leaned his hand against the wall, and a serpent bit him. Is not the day of the LORD darkness, and not light, and gloom with no brightness in it? “I hate, I despise your feasts, and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies. Even though you offer me your burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them; and the peace offerings of your fattened animals, I will not look upon them. Take away from me the noise of your songs; to the melody of your harps I will not listen. But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream [Amos 5:18-24 (ESV)].
Jesus said the same thing to the Pharisees, only He used more words.
“But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you shut the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. For you neither enter yourselves nor allow those who would enter to go in. Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you travel across sea and land to make a single proselyte, and when he becomes a proselyte, you make him twice as much a child of hell as yourselves.

“Woe to you, blind guides, who say, ‘If anyone swears by the temple, it is nothing, but if anyone swears by the gold of the temple, he is bound by his oath.’ You blind fools! For which is greater, the gold or the temple that has made the gold sacred? And you say, ‘If anyone swears by the altar, it is nothing, but if anyone swears by the gift that is on the altar, he is bound by his oath.’ You blind men! For which is greater, the gift or the altar that makes the gift sacred? So whoever swears by the altar swears by it and by everything on it. And whoever swears by the temple swears by it and by him who dwells in it. And whoever swears by heaven swears by the throne of God and by him who sits upon it.

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others. You blind guides, straining out a gnat and swallowing a camel!

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. You blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and the plate, that the outside also may be clean.

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness. So you also outwardly appear righteous to others, but within you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you build the tombs of the prophets and decorate the monuments of the righteous, saying, ‘If we had lived in the days of our fathers, we would not have taken part with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.’ Thus you witness against yourselves that you are sons of those who murdered the prophets. Fill up, then, the measure of your fathers. You serpents, you brood of vipers, how are you to escape being sentenced to hell? Therefore I send you prophets and wise men and scribes, some of whom you will kill and crucify, and some you will flog in your synagogues and persecute from town to town, so that on you may come all the righteous blood shed on earth, from the blood of innocent Abel to the blood of Zechariah the son of Barachiah, whom you murdered between the sanctuary and the altar. Truly, I say to you, all these things will come upon this generation [Matt 23:13-36 (ESV)]

Mapping the 7 Deadly Sins

For those who might think all of the evil in America are on the coasts, here comes a chart graphing what areas struggle with what sins.

American Vice: Mapping the 7 Deadly Sins

Two Great Yet Overlooked Graphic Novels

Two of the best graphic novels that have not received any attention in the early days of the twenty-first century are going to be highlighted here today.

The first is Percy Gloom. Unfortunately, this great story of Percy struggling to find his purpose in life does not even break Amazon's top 400,000. It should make you laugh, cry, and contemplate life. You can get it used and shipped to you for less than $10. It is well worth it. I've read my copy multiple times and have given away a few.

Next up is Orc's Treasure. It does not even break the top 1,750,000 books on Amazon. That's a real sales stinker. Anyway, it's an amazing book that illustrates the point that we (if you are an orc like me, that is) have a difficult time in seeing what is really valuable. You can get this baby for under $8 and snuggle up with it. It is a quick read, unlike Percy, but is very thought provoking.

A Summation of the Teachings of Alexander Campbell by Frederick Kershner

A summation of the teachings of Alexander Campbell by Frederick Kershner. Taken from Dean Mills' Union on the Kings Highway (The Campbell Stone Heritage of Unity Series) (45-46).
1.That the Church is essentially, intentionally, and constitutionally one, including all who profess faith in Christ and obedience to Him in all things.

2.That although the Church exists in local congregations, each should be charitable towards the others, receiving one another as brethren and walking by the same rule.

3.That nothing can be made conditions of fellowship and obligation except what is expressly taught in the Scriptures.

4.That although the two Testaments form the entire revelation of God and are inseparable, the New Testament is the perfect constitution for worship, discipline, and government of the New Testament Church.

5.That no human authority has power to impose new ordinances and commandments or add anything as a term of fellowship that is not as old as the New Testament.

6.That logical inferences and deductions from Scripture based on human wisdom cannot be made binding upon the consciences of other Christians any further than they understand them.

7.That inferential truths resulting from human logic ought not be made conditions of fellowship since not all Christians attain the same degree of knowledge.

8.That Church membership is conditioned upon profession of faith in Christ and obedience to Him, and not upon attaining particular degree of knowledge of Scripture.

9.That all who make this profession are children of the same Father and should treat one another as brothers.

10.That division among the children of God is anti-Christian, anti-Scriptural, anti-natural, and produces confusion.

11.That all division can be traced to either a partial neglect of the Scriptures or making human innovations conditions of fellowship.

12.That purity of the Church is contingent upon a pure membership and a qualified ministry that follow the example of the primitive church.

13.That any human expedients necessary to this endeavor must make no pretense to sacred origin so that future changes in them will not produce contention or division.
I think we run into problems in deciphering "what is expressly taught in Scripture" and what are "logical inferences and deductions from Scripture." Some of our logical inferences and deductions seem so obvious to us that we think they are expressly taught.

On Frank Viola's Pagan Christianity, Non-Instrumentals, Paid Ministry, and Following God's Calling

I received the following question from my friend Shannon:
Years ago when you were so anti-paid ministry and buildings, etc..., was much of that motivated by Pagan Christianity? I remember that being very influential. Now that you have moved into paid ministry, is that still a book you recommend?

I have feared reading it (though I have heard good things), because I wonder if reading how "everything we're doing is wrong" would do more to discourage and confuse me than to challenge and invigorate me. You know what I mean?
Here was my reply:

I actually had not read Pagan Christianity?: Exploring the Roots of Our Church Practices or any Frank Viola book at the time when we planted the house churches in Lansing, but I have just read Pagan Christianity. I started to work through it for Sunday School with the intention to show that most of our practices are not essential and can be changed to whatever is effective. It was way too divisive. I dropped it after week one. I can understand why some think it is divisive, but I just find it so liberating.

We did go through the chapter on sermons, The Sermon: Protestantism's Most Sacred Cow, in a preaching class I taught for people who would like to preach in our church. Viola is against the sermon. I agree with him that it can be a somewhat ineffective form of education, but it can also be a useful well to present a well, thought-out case for a subject. I shared Viola's chapter in the class to show that we have liberty to do whatever we think would best convey the Scriptural message in our sermons. We need to choose effective, yet Christ-like methods where we are not given a Scriptural command. Now some will say that the Bible tells us to preach the gospel, to them I would say read Viola's chapter on the sermon. Our form of preaching was not even around when that was written. Just because we use the same translated word, does not mean we are doing the same practice.

My problem with Viola's book is that Viola is like a non-instrumentalist when it comes to his method of deciding what is a right or wrong practice in the church. For those who do not know what I mean when I say "non-instrumentalist", it is those who believe that practices cannot be in the church unless they were expressly taught in Scripture. In the Restoration Movement, which I am happily a part of, there was a division over the instrument. Some argued that churches should not use instruments in worship because they are not used in the New Testament. Others argued that there is liberty where the Bible does not expressly teach something. If it isn't in Scripture, Viola presumes, like the non-instrumentalist, that we should not do it. I think that if it is not in Scripture, then we have liberty to do what is most effective. On a side note, I have seen many instrumental Churches of Christ/Christian Churches who take this non-instrumental approach to Scripture on all issues except the instrument. There is an old saying that our movement adopted: In Essentials, Unity. In Opinions, Liberty. In all things, Love.

Viola's book is a great read. It puts modern church practices in perspective, but you just have to realize that his conclusion is different because he comes from that non-instrumental (although I'm sure that he is from a different background) strain of interpretation.

As for paid ministry, it's effective in some areas. This town I am ministering would not accept a non-paid minister. In other areas, I would still advise tentmaking. The key is doing what is effective. The problem people, like me, have is that we often confuse our calling with God's universal truth. At the time of my dislike of paid ministry and buildings, my calling was for me to be a tentmaker, and I mistakenly thought that everyone else needed to be a tentmaker. Now my calling is different. God has room for both paid ministers and tentmakers, for buildings and houses, for praise bands and pianos, etc. We need to be sensitive to what God is calling us to and realize that everyone does not have the same calling.

In all of this, we need to remind ourselves that God calls us to be faithful, not effective.

A Thief, A Cute Princess Ring, and Our Trivialization of Jesus

Aria has a cute, princess toy ring that she loves. It's in a little box that she carries around. She carries it more than she wears it, but that's okay. She loves it.

The bad thing for Aria is that Eli realizes that she loves it. He has this tendency to take it away from her to get a rise out of her. On Wednesday, he was trying to take it away by squeezing her arm. He must figure that if he squeezed hard enough, she will drop it. Aria started crying and yelled, "Bad Eli." Eli, while still squeezing her arm and attempting to get the ring declared, "Aria, 'bad' is a mean word." He was right; we teach them not to call anyone "bad." But his actions were much worse than than Aria's words. Eli knows what is right, but he refused to do it while still keeping the moral high ground of teaching what is right. Although that is behavior that needs correction, it is pretty typical of a five year old.

It is very unbecoming of an adult. To teach the truth while not living it is not an action that God looks favorably on.
"Practice and observe whatever they [the Scribes and Pharisees] tell you— but not what they do. For they preach, but do not practice. They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to move them with their finger" Matt 23:3-4 (ESV).
In 2006, Al Gore, at one of his three houses, a twenty room house with eight baths, consumed twenty times the amount of energy that an average American consumes.

In a 2007 interview between ABC news and the Tennessee Center for Policy Research's President, the center stated, "If this were any other person with $30,000-a-year in utility bills, I wouldn't care. But he tells other people how to live and he's not following his own rules."

He jets around the world teaching us to take steps to curb our energy consumption and our carbon footprint. That's great. But like the Scribes and Pharisees, do as Al Gore teaches, not as he does.

Like Al Gore has done with his stance on environmentalism, we have this tendency to just want to intellectualize our faith and not allow it to change our lives. We lie to ourselves and say, "If we think the right thoughts, if we believe the right doctrine, if we have participated in the right religious rituals, then our life is right." That just is not the case. If our thoughts do not transform who we are at the core of our being, then we turn being imitators of Jesus into a sham of Bible Trivial Pursuit. It might be a fun game for some, but it will be empty of any fruit that God wants to bless those around us with.

Francis Schaeffer wrote:
“Ideas are the stock of the thought-world, and from the ideas burst forth all the external things—painting, music, building, the love and the hating of men in practice, and equally the results of loving God or rebellion against God in the external world….The preaching of the gospel is ideas, flaming ideas brought to men, as God has revealed them to us in Scripture. It is not a contentless experience internally received, but it is contentful ideas internally acted upon that make the difference. So when we state our doctrines, they must be ideas and not just phrases. We cannot use doctrines as though they were mechanical pieces to a puzzle. True doctrine is an idea revealed by God in the Bible and an idea that fits properly into the external world as it is, and as God made it, and to man as he is as God made him, and can be fed back through man’s body into his thought-world and there acted upon. The battle for man is centrally in the world of thought.”
In simpler words, "Thoughts, without corresponding actions, are worthless although they are usually necessary to produce those proper actions."

Let's not just say the right words; let's live the life God wants us to live.

Mother Teresa's Feet and Sacrificial Giving

An excerpt from Shane Claiborne’s The Irresistible Revolution: Living as an Ordinary Radical (167-168).

There’s an old story from the desert fathers and mothers, people of deep faith who found it necessary to go into the desert to find God. They lived in little clusters of communities (much the way many of our communities now live, only our desert is the inner cities and abandoned places of the empire). Someone had brought one of the communities a bundle of grapes as a gift. That was quite a delicacy, maybe sort of like giving someone chocolate truffles today. They got so excited, and what happened next is fascinating. Rather than devour them all, they didn’t eat a single one. They passed them on to the next community to enjoy. And that community did the same thing. And eventually, those grapes made it through every community and back to the first community without being eaten. Everyone simply wanted the others to experience the joy of the gift. I’m not sure what ever ended up happening with those grapes. I think maybe they had a big party, or maybe they made some wine. But no doubt God was happy. One of the quotes on my wall reminds me of this daily: “The best thing to do with the best things in life is to give them away.”

Mother Teresa was one of those people who sacrificed great privilege because she encountered such great need. People often ask me what Mother Teresa was like. Sometimes it’s like they wonder if she glowed in the dark or had a halo. She was short, wrinkled, and precious, maybe even a little ornery, like a beautiful wise old granny. But there is one thing I will never forget—her feet. Her feet were deformed. Each morning in Mass, I would stare at them. I wondered if she had contracted leprosy. But I wasn’t going to ask, of course. “Hey Mother, what’s wrong with your feet?” One day a sister said to us, “Have you noticed her feet?” We nodded, curious. She said, “Her feet are deformed because we get just enough donated shoes for everyone, and Mother does not want anyone to get stuck with the worst pair, so she digs through and finds them. And years of doing that have deformed her feet.” Years of loving her neighbor as herself deformed her feet.

The Satellite Sheik "Ahmad al-Shugairi" - On Fundamentalism

Although he claims to not be a sheik, Ahmad al-Shugairi teaches religion over the Arab networks. His show attempts to express moderate Islamic views to the fundamentalist culture in the Middle East. The glimpse that he gives us into the struggle between the moderate and fundamentalist Muslims sounds very similar to the struggle within Christianity.

For his fifth season, all of the episodes have been filmed in Japan. He wants to show the Arab world that the Japanese "are implementing a lot of the things that we are just preaching." He claims that the Muslim culture focuses only on "alcohol and sexual issues." If they abstain from impropriety in those two areas, then they think they think are right with Allah. Beyond that, they are not focusing on the teachings of Islam. It sounds a lot like the problem facing many American Christians. Focus on a few true points and lift those up to the place where your adherence to them makes you presume you are right with God. Forget that God desires your whole heart and not just a handful of actions and abstentions.

Here is a portion of the On The Media interview between Brooke Gladstone and Ahmad al-Shugairi:
I'm just trying to make the Arab world feel jealous from the Japanese streets. I mean, I ask the Arab world, if the Prophet Muhammad came today, who will he see implementing his teachings more, the Japanese or the Muslim world? A big question mark.

And I say that, by the way, also about the U.S. Most of the prophetic teachings are practiced in the U.S. much more than they are in the Islamic world. Our problem is we focus on two major things and we just shove everything else aside. We focus on alcohol and sexual issues.

So we see the U.S. — they're open in these two arenas, so we say we're better than them because we don't have those. However, we forget that these are two out of a hundred. Barack Obama’s presidency is a great implementation of a human virtue that Prophet Muhammad and Jesus before him promoted, which is all humans are created equal.

When you see an African American leading the most powerful country in the world, out of election, not out of force, and this cannot be implemented anywhere else in the world, anywhere else, this needs to be acknowledged.
This made me examine myself, the church I am in, and Christianity as a whole. Are we living out the gospel more than those who do not even claim to be part of Jesus' Kingdom? Do we just cling to a few practices, albeit true practices, and claim that those practices or abstentions make us right with God? Do we preach doctrines so often that they become hollow and meaningless? Are we living out life as the body of Christ here and now; are we Jesus' hands and feet in this world?

A Bike Ride - An Illustration in Leadership

Sometimes it is stressful to be a leader.

Isaac and I went on a bike ride yesterday. We had fun. We were going to ride our bike to a friends' house and eat some apples in his yard (ones that we were bringing, not stealing) and then ride back. The plan was flawless. We would get on our bike and drive down 49 (yes, that is the road that has semis on occasion) to the county road. From there we would make it to our friends' house, stop and eat, and come back home. As with many good things in life, we spontaneously stopped at my uncles' house and ate some pears that we stole off of his pear tree. At the time I thought their could be nothing greater experience in the whole world than picking a pear for me and my son, who could not reach one although he told me which one to pick, and eating it there together in the yard I used to play in when my Grandma lived in that house.

The ride was a reminder that God is great. What a privilege it is to ride down the road with my son on a beautiful day. Well, I did forget my silly hat that prevents me from getting too much sun, and I was wearing short sleeves. My dermatologist will definitely know that I have gotten sunlight. Part of me wonders if I really should obey her command to not get any sun. But I digress. It was a great time.

Anyway, the experience was perfect but stressful. As the adult, I needed to keep looking to make sure cars were not coming. I needed to inform Isaac when we needed to get off of the road.

It became even more stressful when we left our friends' house. We were sitting there, enjoying apples while his dog warmed up to us. We call the dog Nafai Jr. because he looks like our Nafai but only half the size. I would post pictures but nobody wants to see pictures of other people's dogs.

After the apples were devoured, we began to head back home. The dog decided to follow. I yelled, "Sit!" "Stay!" "Go home!" - anything that I could think of, but the dog would not listen. He was going to follow us home. I couldn't just shove him in my friends house because the dog might leave a mess. The chain outside had another dog on it, so I could not just chain him up. So Isaac, the dog we called Nafai Jr, and I began the ride back home.

As the adult, I had to now make sure that Isaac would not die and that Nafai Jr. would not die. I began to contemplate how we were going to get across the bridge on the way home. Hmm.

Nafai Jr. would sometimes stray into the middle of the road. Thankfully, I learned how to herd him with my bike to the side of the road before reaching 49 (the road with the semis). Then we began down 49. I was thankful that Nafai Jr. decided to run on the other side of the big ditch. He wanted to run down the middle, but he soon discovered that it was too muddy.

Then we got to the bridge. I still had not figured out how I was going to get us all across when Nafai Jr. ran down to the water to get a drink. I noticed that the creek was low and the dog could get across. I told Isaac to hurry up and get to the other side with me. He questioned my leaving the dog. I said, "I do not have time to explain everything we need to do to get Nafai Jr. across right now. I'll tell you later." He obeyed and we quickly rode across the bridge. Then we hopped off of our bikes and ran to the other side of the creek and started calling Nafai Jr., who mysteriously responded to his new name very well on the ride home. He had trouble making it up the creek wall. I thought I was going to have to get in and lift him up. It's crazy the things we are willing to do in a moment of "crisis." Anyway, just when I was going to get in, he hopped up and made it up the bank. Whew.

Our house is only about a hundred yards from the creek, so we had smooth sailing from there to our house. Nafai Jr. became an indoor dog, locked in our kitchen because he was the world's smelliest dog, for an afternoon until our friend came home from work. But leading him home was no bed of roses. It reiterated to me that in order to be a leader, even on a simple bike ride with your seven-year old boy, you have to be a servant.

Now before the Feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart out of this world to the Father, having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. During supper, when the devil had already put it into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, to betray him, Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going back to God, rose from supper. He laid aside his outer garments, and taking a towel, tied it around his waist. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was wrapped around him. He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, do you wash my feet?” Jesus answered him, “What I am doing you do not understand now, but afterward you will understand.” Peter said to him, “You shall never wash my feet.” Jesus answered him, “If I do not wash you, you have no share with me.” Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!” Jesus said to him, “The one who has bathed does not need to wash, except for his feet, but is completely clean. And you are clean, but not every one of you.” For he knew who was to betray him; that was why he said, “Not all of you are clean.”

When he had washed their feet and put on his outer garments and resumed his place, he said to them, “Do you understand what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you. Truly, truly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them. I am not speaking of all of you; I know whom I have chosen. But the Scripture will be fulfilled, ‘He who ate my bread has lifted his heel against me.’ I am telling you this now, before it takes place, that when it does take place you may believe that I am he. Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever receives the one I send receives me, and whoever receives me receives the one who sent me” John 13:1-20 (ESV).

A Midnight Clear - A Movie Dialogue

Midnight Clear
Midnight Clear is a movie about tragedy on Christmas Eve and restoring meaning to one's life after broken relationships or the difficulties of life. It is one of the most depressing movies I have ever seen.

Despite that, it was really inspiring. Today, I want to be more focused in my ministry on meeting people's small needs. The little loving acts are oftentimes the most meaningful. The youth minister in the movie had lost his focus; he was worried about being hip rather than real. That gas station owner was frustrated that he had made a dead-end investment when he bought the gas station and could not see a way out of his investment. A wife struggled with her vegetable husband. A man struggled with losing his job and not having any visitation with his children. A grandma faced the loneliness of old age and the abandonment of her children. It was a menagerie of loneliness and through it, Midnight Clear weaves an interesting story of these lives and deliberate acts of kindness and generosity.

From Kirk the gas station attendant:
You know, you think about that one thing you can contribute. What's my thing? That I make a good pot of coffee. Most of my customers don't care about gourmet coffee anyway; they want gas and a styrofoam cup of pennies by the register. That's about it.

In another conversation he stated:
My mom had a stroke...It's funny though. I'm grateful for that time. It's easy to take care of someone who gives back or says thank you. Taking care of someone who doesn't even know what you are doing. It makes you figure out what kind of person you are.

Each life seemed to be filled with meaninglessness. Because it was a movie, they were made meaningful through love and taking care of little needs, but it made me think that a little love can bring more meaning to the lives around me. Isn't that one of the true meanings of Christmas?

Midnight Clear deals with heavy issues of alcoholism, suicide, and Christmas caroling. It's a heavy movie, but aren't all movies that have Christmas caroling?

It receives one check off the entertaining barometer because the dialogue gets too corny at times. True, it might be realistic because my dialogue frequently gets corny, but I expect a little more out of a movie. It never goes overt about Christianity, and that made it an exceptional Christian movie rather than a sermon disguised as a movie.

Entertaining: 4/5
Inspiring: 5/5
Ethical Thinking: 5/5

Worth searching for and watching despite not being known.

Midnight Clear