Saturday, December 30, 2006

Happy New Year!

I know this is premature, but I am leaving town for a few days. It's that time of year to work on our New Year resolutions. For some reason this is the time of year when we join health clubs, take up exercise and make resolutions to change that which do not like about ourselves.

So here is my list.

1. To become more accepting of my Christian brothers and sisters who worship in a different manner than me.

I have yet to make good on my goal of attending an Orthodox church service, though I still intend to do so. God has been speaking to me about finding common ground with other denominations. It's not like the Holiness movement is the ONLY way to worship, build the kingdom, and get to heaven. Richard Foster's "Streams of Living Water" has been a great help for me to understand how the other branches of Christianity function. If you haven't read that book, please do so.

While purchasing my wife's Christmas present from my children and myself, we had an enlightening discussion with an Armenian Orthodox Christian jewelry sales clerk. I was trying to explain the Orthodox church to my children and she overheard us talking. We had a nice discussion of the church and the Armenian genocide in 1915. I am grateful that I had just taken church history and was up on the Orthodox church. And the young lady was encouraged that someone not from her faith understood a little about it and the tragedy that the Armenian people have endured. I say that not to boast, but to thank God for putting me in that place at that time.

I intend to learn more about the other denominations and find areas where my belief system intersects with theirs. There is much to be learned from each other's tradition and practices. This is my year to act on it.

2. To become more intentional about supporting others in need of encouragement.

It is very easy for me to overlook those in need of encouragement when I am over committed, busy and focused on my own needs. This year I resolve to listen to the leading of the Holy Spirit more closely to reach out to my brothers and sisters who are hurting.

3. To be completely surrendered to whatever God wants me to do.

I have been struggling a little with my call to ministry. Some of it is probably normal seminary turbulence. Some of it is that I do not like what I think God may be calling me to do. But this year I resolve to say "Yes Lord" to whatever He wants me to do. I say that with some trembling, but with complete faith in the One who calls me.

4. To increase my level of participation in my children's spiritual development.

It is too easy to back off on this because our children attend a parochial school and church. But since going to the Dundee church, we have been convicted that we were allowing our former church, which is much larger, to do what is our job. The sheer amount of activity coupled with the biblical teaching at school made me lax in this area. This year I will continue to teach my children the tenets of the faith.


Thursday, December 28, 2006

Let the dead rest


Gerald Ford hadn't been dead more than a day when the Washington Post breathlessly reported that Ford disagreed with the war in Iraq. Whether former president Ford agreed agreed with the Iraq war or not, there is an element of tact that is missing here.

The man accomplished a lot during his brief tenure. He healed the nation after Watergate, gave clemency to draft dodgers, forced New York City to own up to it's financial mess, and kept the country on a fiscally responsible course.

Yet the Post wants to view the world through the lens of Iraq. That is just wrong and tasteless. Shame on them. Let's celebrate the man, his life, and his accomplishments. Iraq will still be there next week.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

It's a God Thing

Every once in a while God does one of those things that just grabs you. One of them happened to me today.

I've been ruminating on what my call to ministry looks like. It has been an evolutionary process for me, starting with me having God in a tiny box to the present "Whatever you want Lord" attitude. One thing I have been noticing in my life is that I am often in positions of leadership at a moment in time when changes are needed. I've started a thread on The OOZE discussing what I think God might be calling me to do.

Tonight, I suddenly felt the urge to call a former pastor who had a similar ministry. It turns out that God used that call to encourage him at a difficult time in his ministry. I had no idea that would happen. I called for purely selfish motives to gain some insight into what the future may hold for me. And God used that to encourage him.

God is truly an amazing being. And one I still have a hard time getting my head around.

Shalom.

Monday, December 25, 2006

Peace

Merry Christmas to all! What a joyous season this is, even without snow here in Michigan I wish you the love and peace of Christ this holiday season.

I've been reflecting on peace all through Advent. Peace is so easy to say, and so hard to understand. What is peace? Is it the absence of war? That is the way many view it. But peace means so much more than that.

When I hear Christmas carols such as Away in a Manger and Silent Night, they evoke a scene in my mind of stillness and calm. I suspect that Jesus' birth wasn't all that quiet and peaceful. After all he was born in a stable. Think about a stable. He was in a feed trough among a bunch of animals. Cows mooing, donkey's braying, horses neighing, Mary going through childbirth. And the smell. Oh my goodness the smell is something that I cannot even fathom. I've been around enough livestock to know that scene was neither peaceful or pleasant.

True lasting peace is usually won, not given. The United States is at peace with Japan, Italy and Germany after horrific loss of life to defeat the evil regimes that ran their countries. We paid an enormous price in the lives of soldiers and treasure of our country, and so did they. The same is true of Christ's peace.

God paid a horrific price in sacrificing Jesus. We have paid an enormous toll in lives lost before Christ and in martyrs. But there is peace between us and God. If we are willing to accept it. Christ is the avenue for the peace we seek. The angels announced his coming with trumpets, yet they were still when he was bearing the wrath of God. But peace is now available to you. Take it. Then share that peace with those around you. And that will begin to bring peace on earth through our goodwill to men.

Merry Christmas.

Roy

Thursday, December 21, 2006

There's no envy like snow envy like no envy I know



Life here in Michigan has been A little tough, with the auto downsizing, bad economy and now, bad weather. It is nearly Christmas and we have no snow, and it just keeps raining. I know, give me some cheese for my whine.

Then, to add insult to injury, my friend John sends me these pictures. He just moved to Colorado Springs this summer, and they are getting buried. I am so envious.

Really, what is the point of being cold if you don't have snow?

Just in time for Christmas


Thanks to Bishopman for raining on the holiday parade with this article. It seems that (gasp) many Christians are overweight and churches have developed a culture of social events with high-fat foods. He is treading very lightly since he lives in the heart of the Bible Belt, but he has a point.

My past history of ignoring dietary advice has caught up to me, and my Dr. is strongly encouraging me to change my diet and lighten the load I place on the earth. So this has been a season of Splenda instead of sugar (it works) and more vegetables and fiber, and less simple carbohydrates ( I miss potato chips and Milk Duds). So when I talk about overweight Christians, I know of what I speak. But, I have had an epiphany, and am actively working to change my lifestyle, which isn't easy. But it beats what is coming down the road, if my doctor is correct in his predictions.

I've often wondered how the body as a temple of the Holy Spirit argument only worked for alcohol and tobacco, but gluttony was permissible. But that is another discussion best held after the holidays.

Merry Christmas to all. And to all, a good diet.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Helping the suffering in Darfur



SaveDarfur.org has a post called "Evangelicals for Darfur" that's worth checking out...


Please take the time to read the article and browse the site. God's children are suffering mightily there, and we can make a difference with donations and political action.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Fellowship

Those of you who know me know of my disdain for the sanctified gorge-fest that is known as a church fellowship. Somehow, the concept of bearing each other's burdens in Christian love has been boiled down to green bean casserole served lukewarm in a potluck. I would imagine that more than 90% of the church use of the word fellowship involves food. Which is not what fellowship is about.

According to dictionary.com, here are the definitions for fellowship:

.1. the condition or relation of being a fellow: the fellowship of humankind.
2.friendly relationship; companionship: the fellowship of father and son.
3.community of interest, feeling, etc.
4.communion, as between members of the same church.
5.friendliness.
6.an association of persons having similar tastes, interests, etc.
7.a company, guild, or corporation.
8.Education.
a.the body of fellows in a college or university.
b.the position or emoluments of a fellow of a college or university, or the sum of money he or she receives.
c.a foundation for the maintenance of a fellow in a college or university.
–verb (used with object)
9.to admit to fellowship, esp. religious fellowship.
–verb (used without object)
10.to join in fellowship, esp. religious fellowship.

Did you see food mentioned in there? Neither did I.



I was watching The Fellowship of the Ring today and this thought struck me. Frodo was at his most vulnerable when he was separated from the fellowship. When he put the ring on and had to face the Nazgul alone, he was injured and nearly killed. But when he stayed with the fellowship, they were there to guide and protect each other.

That is what saddens me about what our churches have done with fellowship. It has been taken from a concept of community where we guide, protect, love and support each other to a concept of expanding each other's waistlines. It's about food. We sit with the same people at the "fellowship" events anyway. Instead of involving ourselves in each other's lives, we feed our faces. We waste a valuable opportunity to build up the spirital side of the body. Instead, we choose to build the body mass, and let the spirit wither.

For more of my thoughts on this, go here and here.

This is a hard nut to crack, as I have discovered. It is an ingrained practice handed down from the Lord himself, just ask the fellowship diehards. It could be so much more. But alas, it is a celebration of Aunt Edna's Three Bean Salad.

Upon the advice of my doctor, I am swearing off potlucks. At least that is my plan.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

A picture is worth a thousand words


So I will save you the words. This cartoon says exactly what I was talking about in a previous post.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Vanity


Is this just the most vain gift idea you have seen? I hear this ad on the radio frequently, where you can name a star after someone you love. Aside from the sheer folly of giving a gift that is basically a name in a book somewhere, there is an issue with this that struck me today.
Can we really name stars? I see in the Bible where Adam was given the authority to name the animals. We have continued this to name plants and minerals, merely to help classify them. But naming a big ball of gas billions of light years away after your uncle because you can't think of anything else to get him seems a bit pretentious to me.

After all, the heavens for the most part are God's domain. There are very few instances in the Bible where a man exerts some control over the heavens. Elijah made the rain stop for 31/2 years, but typically the heavens are assigned grandeur and majesty. They are not a wall to pick a gift from.

Psalms 19:1 The Heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.

Nope, nothing in there about gift giving, or Aunt Edna.

I encourage you to go outside on a clear night, stare at the grandeur of what God created for our viewing pleasure and thank Him for that. It will make you feel pretty small. And it will make you feel very special.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

The more they stay the same


22 years ago at Christmas we were graced with the song "Do they know it's Christmas" by Band Aid. Organized by Bob Geldof, it was an admirable effort by British music artists to raise money to help the starving Ethopians enduring a drought and government-engineered famine. It was soon followed by the awful "We are the World" by USA for Africa.

Fast forward to 2006 and a crisis of similar proportion is unfolding in Sudan. A government engineered famine, ethnic cleansing and a feckless United Nations, and you have hundreds of thousands suffering in Darfur. Except this time they don't have a cheerleader raising money for them. But the need is just as great.

If you want to help out the suffering people of Darfur, you can go here to see some organizations that are working in that region. Not every relief organization is willing to send its people into this volatile are. And please don't give any money to the United Nations relief efforts. The graft and corruption in that organization is shameful.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

The more things change...


Some things are just so predictable. The sun will rise in the east, and set in the west. Winter is cold, summer is warm. And the Secretary General of the United Nations will blame the United States for whatever is wrong in the world.

In a predictable fashion, Kofi Annan scolded the United States about abandoning its democratic ideals in the war on terror. Is this the same guy who ran the corrupt Oil For Food program with Saddam where billions was siphoned off from humanitarian purposes to feed Saddam loyalists and his army? The UN didn't sanction its members who participated in this, but individual countries have.

Is this the same United Nations that did nothing in the Balkan crisis, and the US and NATO intervened without their blessing to stop a genocide?

Is this the same United Nations whose "peacekeepers" were sytematically raping and torturing young girls in the Congo while they were supposed to be protecting them?

Thanks for the input Kofi. Now take your corrupt team and get off of the world stage. Your time has been a disgrace at an organization seriously in need of a purpose. This is just one more evidence of why we need to put our faith in God, not in man, or institutions created by man. They will always disappoint us and are prone to corruption. Even those started with high ideals.

Monday, December 11, 2006

A good Children's Advent book

If you are looking for a good book to read to your children for Advent, this is an excellent one. Jotham's Journey is a fantastic tale of a shepherd boy who winds up on a spine-tingling tale because of his disobedience. It is broken out in sections to be read each day, and our kids loved it.

It draws you into a strong narrative set at the time of the birth of Christ that will reinforce the message of Advent and keep the kids interested.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Another Good Book

Pick up a copy of The Shadow of the Galilean by Gerd Theissen. It is a first-person narrative of a first century Jewish grain merchant who is forced to spy on Jewish groups by Pilate. While he never directly interacts with Jesus, he crosses paths with him many times and talks with people who have met Jesus.

If you are looking for a narrative way of talking about Jesus in easy to understand terms, this is an excellent resource. It is a quick read that will transport you back to the first century. It won't replace the gospel accounts, but it will add to the depth of your understanding without a bunch of big theological terms.

Enjoy it as I did.

Roy

Thursday, December 07, 2006

The Important Things


I know I have been on a bit of a rant about the BCS and how Michigan lost 2 positions in the coaches poll without playing. I'm done with that, I promise. I just hope that OSU andUM put serious beatdowns on their upcoming opponents. Rooting for OSU is hard, but I will do it this year.

I just read a great article on The OOZE about keeping the important things first. As Christians, that means keeping Christ first, in all aspects of our lives. Easy to say, hard to do. Especially when we leave the confines of the church building walls. We as a society take our eyes off the ball very easily. We focus on where Britney Spears and Paris Hilton are going and how they are dressed. Meanwhile we have hundreds of thousands of troops in harms way in Iraq and Afghanistan, a madman with nuclear weapons in North Korea, a madman pursuing nuclear weapons and assuring the destruction of our country and Israel in Iran, and a massive humanitarian crisis in Darfur. I don't want to get into the politics of these things other than to say that there are significant threats to our world, both in military and moral terms, staring us in the face. How we react to them is how history will judge us.

I don't know what to make of Darfur. I can't understand the lack of interest in this country or in the United Nations. This is a humanitarian tragedy on a massive scale, and the world is turning a blind eye toward it. This is a cause that churches can get their arms around. It can be preached from the pulpit, money can be raised, and politicians can be called to demand action. Pray for the 600,000 + people suffering there. They need our help.

As for Iran and North Korea, they scare the daylights out of me. Irrational people with Messianic complexes and no fear of death holding nuclear weapons is not a good thing. When these same people support terrorist organizations like Hamas and Hezbollah, it scare me even more. Pray for our leaders, so that we do not awaken one day to a mushroom-shaped cloud in our country. I don't know how to fix it. But I know we are called to pray for our leaders.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Hypocrisy


I promise I will stop on the UM/OSU/Florida fiasco. But read this. It seems that the University of Florida trumpets their rematch against FSU that gave them a national championship in 1996. They lost their last regular season game to FSU (Sound familiar) and then beat them in the Sugar Bowl.

Enough, I'm done. But what amazes me is that Urban Meyer can do this with a straight face. He should run for office.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Bummer

It looks like Urban Meyer's campaigning has paid off. Florida will play Ohio State in the BCS Championship game while Michigan will face USC in the Rose Bowl. I'd be happier with this if Meyer hadn't been shooting his mouth off for the past few weeks that a rematch of UM and OSU would be a miscarriage of justice. He seems to forget that the only national championship Florida has won was in a rematch against Florida State.

Oh well. Bring on the Trojans.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Thank you Bruins


Thanks to the UCLA Bruins for knocking off the USC Trojans. This keeps the University of Michigan hopes for a rematch with Ohio State alive in the BCS championship game. We'll see what comes out of the BCS rankings tomorrow, but hope is still alive.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

More on Slavery

If you have never read this book, I heartily endorse it. I read it during an ethics class at Asbury Theological Seminary and it really rang my bell. It reminded me of the line in the Rich Mullins song "Boy like me, Man like you" that says "Stories like that make a boy grow bold, stories like that make a man walk straight" because the stories of Charles Finney, Jonathan Blanchard, Theodore Weld and the Methodist reformers who were vehemently anti-slavery in the early 19th Century give me great pride in my religious heritage. Of special note is the group of abolitionists at Oberlin College who carried the fight against slavery to extremes at great peril to their own lives and freedom.

We now live in an era where slavery is not as prevalent, but it is still practiced in many parts of the world. Lord, give us the holy boldness that these men and women had to stop an injustice. Their stories inspire us.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

What are Christian Issues?


Recently, the president-elect of the Christian Coalition parted ways with the organization over the direction and emphases he wanted to implement. You can read the story here.

What I find striking is that the issues that divided them are all "Christian" issues. It seems that Rev. Hunter wanted to go beyond abortion and homosexuality and deal with poverty and environmental issues. Eventually they came to the conclusion that he was not a good fit there. Hooray for both sides realizing their limits and not prolonging this into a disastrous marriage.

But it begs the question. What are the Christian issues of today? Certainly abortion and homosexual marriage have been in the forefront of legal, political and fundraising issues for some time now. And both sides of the political spectrum are engaged on them.

But there are other issues such as the ones Rev. Hunter wanted to discuss that are in need of a serious look by Christians. I know the Church of the Nazarene is making strides in Africa with HIV/AIDS and sustainable community development in their mission areas. But why is it that gay marriage and abortion are the things that attract the most attention and $$$$?

Is it because they happen in our country? Are we that narcissistic? It it because the issue is easier to get our heads and wallets around? After all, one more Supreme Court Justice and the Christian Coalition will be smiling. Or is it because the other issues seem insurmountable? I just don't know. I know the right wing of the American church is a latecomer to the HIV/AIDS issue. I just wish they had the same fervor for that that they do for politics and legal wrangling.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Elephants


I like elephants. Big, lumbering creatures, Indian or African. I love seeing them in the zoo, with all of the power and majesty that goes with an animal that large. It's really hard to hide an elephant in most situations. Maybe that is why I love the Non Sequitur comic pictured here so much.

I have been in so many situations where there is an elephant in the room that everyone moves around. Sometimes I see them, and others don't, which drives me crazy. Especially when the elephant materially affects me or the organization and inhibits our ability to accomplish our mission. Many elephants just sit there and impede progress, and people are just content to move around them because they believe the price is too high to deal with them.

What are your elephants? Share some good elephant stories in the comments. I would love to hear them.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Slavery


Slavery isn't dead. More than 140 years after a horrific war fought in this country to end slavery, there are an estimated 27 million people still in slavery around the globe. Next February a new movie about William Wilberforce, who led the charge to end slavery in the British Empire, will be in theaters. Go here to read up on the anti-slavery campaign that is being mounted to celebrate the 200th anniversary of Wilberforce's triumph.

A few years ago the church flocked to theaters to see "The Passion of the Christ" which was the first rated R movie many had seen. I wonder if churches will put the same effort into getting people to see this movie and behind this issue. It is a consequential issue for millions of people, but not many in this country. I say that not to be judgmental, but to highlight that because it isn't happening here, we probably won't pay much attention. Which is sad. Slavery and genocide are still happening, but we don't talk about them much.

God hates slavery. It is an awful thing that needs to be ended once and for all. Sign the petition and look at the steps you can take to help end this detestable practice.


Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Rumors, speculation and innuendo


No I'm not talking politics or the lobby in church on Sunday morning (hateful boy, hateful boy).

I'm talking about the plethora of internet rumors about this company or that dissing Christmas, Christians, supporting homosexuals, disrespecting the war or veterans or whatever the latest and greatest rumor may be.

What really surprises me is the number of Christians who blindly send these along without ever verifying the authenticity of what it says. Almost all of these are injurious to the reputation of an individual or corporation.

Here is my simple suggestion. Before you pass along any email of this type, go here to verify the truth. This website does its best to determine the accuracy of internet rumors and dispel myths. Please avail yourself of it. I'm really tired of reading how some company is evil when it isn't true. There is enough evil in the world. We don't have to add more.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Saving the planet


Many people are concerned about the environmental impact that humans have on the planet, with good reason. We have not been good stewards in many ways, but I have good news. I have a very simple process that will make your life easier and lessen your eco-footprint.

Interested?

Here's the deal. (No I am not selling anything.)

Click on the image above. It will take you to the Direct Marketing Association website where you can pay a $1 fee and have your name removed from mailing lists. I have personally done this, and after 3-6 months, you will see a noticeable difference in the amount of junk mail you receive.

Every piece of mail you don't receive is one less that has to be produced, requiring recycled paper, trees, fuel and all of the resources required to get something you don't want delivered to your home. This isn't an original thought with me, I took it from a wonderful little book called "50 Simple Things You Can Do To Save The Earth."

While I am not one of the environmental doomsayers, it does seem foolish and wasteful to send me things I do not want, and then ask me to recycle or dispose of them. This is your way of greatly diminishing the amount of unsolicited mail you receive. Consider it my gift to you

Roy

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Free Music


Go to Derek Webb's site to LEGALLY download his new album Mockingbird. It's well worth the time. You can also visit his MySpace site here.

Monday, November 13, 2006

A just war


Over the weekend I Tivo'd some of the classic war movies that air every year on Veterans Day. I was watching Twelve O'Clock High with Gregory Peck and I began to think about what they were doing with daylight precision bombing and whether it was a just tactic in a just war.

The arguments against the bombing were 1) the horrendous civilian casualties; 2) the incredible loss of life among aircrews and 3) the ineffectiveness of the bombing at stopping the war. As I watched this movie, I wondered if I could have separated my patriotism from my faith enough to question and denounce this practice that killed millions of people without any military benefit. We were attacked and prosecuting a total war, but are there some things you just don't do in war? Firebombing civilians a la Hamburg seems to be one.

The guys flying the planes just wanted 25 missions and the chance to go home. But I suspect some of them questioned the tactics. But did the church? I can't find any evidence of any non-pacifist churches questioning this in a public way. And I wonder if that wasn't a mistake.

Now we are in a different war arguing over civilian losses and what constitutes torture. 60 years have gone by and here we are again.

Come Lord Jesus. Come

Friday, November 10, 2006

Superstar Pastors


Read this piece on Superstar Pastors. I saw in in my local paper, and it made me shake my head.

The following paragraph illustrates the problem as I see it.
So when Haggard fell spectacularly from grace in a scandal involving drugs and allegations of gay sex, many wondered if New Life, so tied to his public persona, would crash with him.

The answer has significance far beyond the Haggard tragedy. As evangelical megachurches have sprung up around the country, concerns have grown over whether superstar pastors help or hurt faith communities.

The article goes on to talk at length about megachurches with superstar pastors. But the question is probably rhetorical. Are we really that shallow? Do we really go to churches just because a particular person is in the pulpit? I realize that pastors make a huge difference, but are we really that shallow?

I really hope not. But I do have some appreciation for strong denominational oversight of pastors. I don't necessarily advocate moving pastors around against the congregational wishes, but I can see the perils of a cult of personality that forms in many of these churches.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Don't Shoot the Wounded

Excerpt from a post on The OOZE

With the advent of the latest news, the evangelical world has come to a choice point. They need to think carefully about how they will move forward. Opportunities to alter the course of a movement’s history do not come often. Now is the perfect time to let the world know we don’t serve a God who looks at our sin and is somehow in shock, disbelief, and denial. And God’s people shouldn’t be either. Now is the time to pray for Ted, his family and friends, and the Haggard’s spiritual fellowship. It is time to pray for the former escort, Mike Jones, who felt the need to air this allegation. We should lift up the divided communities in our nation—the gay and lesbian community, the evangelical community, and everyone in-between and intertwined. Now is the time to recover an ancient truth: Though David suffered extreme consequences for his sin, God never removed him for a single moment from serving as Israel’s king. Evidentially God knows how to differentiate between sin and sinner. If Ted comes clean and changes course through a process of healing and restoration, I pray the evangelical world will allow him to continue to serve as (to borrow Henri Nouwen’s phrase) a “wounded healer,” one who ministers the paradoxical power of Jesus from the pain and brokenness that is common to all of us. If the evangelical world doesn’t do this, it won’t be a judgment on Ted. It will be a judgment on the presumed inefficacy of the blood of Jesus.

This will be an interesting test for the church. What if Ted honestly repents? Will they ostracize him or restore him? Peter was restored after denying Christ. Will we follow the restoration guide in Galatians 6:1? Will we allow this scandal to distract us from the real issue of bringing Christ to a lost world? I hope not. Ted did serious damage to the cause, but we serve a mighty God who can rise above all of our failings.

Let's not get in His way.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Foolishness

It all ends on Tuesday. "The MOST IMPORTANT ELECTION IN OUR HISTORY" since the last most important election in our history will be over. And there will be much rejoicing. One side will be the victors. Another will be the vanquished. And the rest of us will get a respite from the computer-dialed phone calls telling us when to vote, where to vote, and why one person is terrible and another is good.

Enough of these cursed robo-calls. My phone was ringing non-stop this morning with them. Enough of the slick little advertisments from eveyone but the candidates. I don't mind candidate pieces, but the parties, conservationists, pro dove hunting and anti dove hunting crowds, and everyone else telling me why this person is bad for America is too much.

I used to love politics, now I despise it. I don't watch the news anymore because it is just politics, polls, disasters and scandal. I have enough depressing stuff in my life. I don't need any more.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Not again


Here we go again. A prominent Evangelical leader, this time Ted Haggard, is caught up in a scandal that brings down his ministry. As soon as I heard the reports of this, I had another pit in my stomach. Not that I am a card-carrying member of the NAE, but because this will hurt the Church of Jesus Christ in the eyes of an increasingly skeptical world.

I don't know what Ted Haggard did or did not do with this man, and I really don't want to know. I think it will sicken me if I did. But I do know that an Christian leader who was leading a drive to stop gay marriage in Colorado has been found to have engaged in "sexually immoral behavior" according to the oversight board that dismissed him from the pastorate of his church in Colorado Springs. Our pastor talked about Schadenfreude today - taking pleasure in other's misfortune. I don't have any of that here, but I am sure there are many non-Christians who do. And Satan certainly does.

This is a chastening experience for an aspiring pastor. Not only am I reminded that what I do is not just between me and God, I am also reminded that what I do can affect so many people. My family, congregation, and all those who look to me for spiritual guidance. This is a sobering thought. And one that makes me fearful.

Pray for all those in positions of spiritual leadership. Pray that they would remain faithful to the One who has called them. Pray that they would live lives worthy of their calling. Pray that they would bring Glory to God and build the Kingdom of God. And pray that the enemy would be kept at bay. God help us all.

Monday, October 30, 2006

Why? redux

As I continue my journey into the imponderables of the Christian life, I ran into another thing that we as Christians do almost reflexively. Yet I have never understood why we do it. That thing is standing every time we sing. Why on earth do we do that?

Does the music sound better 6 feet off the floor than it does 3 feet off the floor? Do our voices sound better to us or God? Are we closer to God because we are standing? I just don't get it.

This past Sunday I chose not to stand for some of the songs. Partially because I have an aching right knee (prayers appreciated) and partially because I had some stuff on my mind that I was praying about. And I pray better sitting than standing.

A well-meaning young man in the congregation was prompting me to stand, and I had to politely tell him that I wasn't going to, which made me ask why do we do this anyway? In the current church era, the 20-minute song sets get a bit tiring on my aging legs. If I wanted to stand that long, I would go to a Pink Floyd concert and wave my lighter.

Seriously, does anyone know why we do this?

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Grave Robbing

One of my favorite movie scenes is in "Monty Python and the Holy Grail" The plague comes to town and a man goes through the village with a cart collecting the dead so they can take them out of town to prevent the spread of this dread disease. A bit of a discussion ensues between the dead collector, the person carrying the dead person (who isn't dead yet) and the nearly dead person. You really have to watch the movie to see that scene. But it illustrates a larger point about dead things. You can't let them hang around. And you can't bring them back.

Colossians 3;3 speaks to this "For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God." We are dead in Christ. But so many of us keep digging up our old life and dragging it around, long after it was buried.

How many of you know people who have been in Christ for years, but keep dragging around hurts and injustices from back in the day? They hold onto them like prized possessions and get them out whenever they need a crutch. And that is another separate topic.

When we were born again, our past was nailed to Christ's cross. So whatever was done to us is gone, because it was done to a dead person. That is part of the victory we have in Christ. But we diminish that victory if we keep digging up the stinking corpse and strapping it to our bodies as a shield. It's gross, it smells, and no one will recognize it for what it once was.

Let the dead rest. Including all of the sins we committed and the ones committed against us. Christ paid the price and buried them. Leave them there.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Update

Previously I mentioned that pretty teachers who have sex with students don't have to go to jail, a la Debra LaFave. She is the stunning blonde accused of having sex with a male student.

Well this story out of Indiana gives me hope. It appears that 1) there are jurors with brains in Indiana; or 2) she wasn't that pretty. She didn't even touch the kids and got 9 years. Debra LaFave has a book and movie deal I am sure.

God help this country. We are becoming Rome.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Jesus is All I Need


When Caedmon's Call released their "Share The Well" CD, it caught me as I was preparing for my first mission trip to Guatemala. This is one of the greatest CDs I have heard in my life. It is not the most radio-friendly CD, but the songs just rip at my heart. Take this one for example:

All I Need (I Did Not Catch Her Name)

I did not catch her name
I did not catch her tears
But they hit me like a train
When her story hit my ears
Mother of eight sons
Father off to war
Got no home address
Just bricks on a dirt floor
And she said, "Jesus is all I need"

Tiny plot of land
Corn stored up in piles
The years it doesn't rain
They just stay hungry for a while
With no fatted calf to kill
She made a feast of cuy and corn and said
Who else knew my name before
The day that I was born
Jesus is all I need
Jesus is all I need

And she bragged about her boys
And how they're growing into men
And how the learned to praise the Lord
Old style Ecuadorian
But to buy the new guitar
We had to sell the swine
See my boys go to school on a foreign angel's dime

This world calls me poor
I bore my babies on this floor
But He always provides
Sure as the sun will rise
So I sing Him songs of praise
'Cause I know He keeps me in His gaze

Rain fell from the sky
We raced back to the van
Tears in the eyes
Of this poor forgetful man
Mother of eight sons
She knows the peace of God
Lord, help me learn to lean on
Thy staff and Thy rod

Jesus is all I need
Jesus is all I need
Jesus is all I need
Jesus is all I need

How do you not see the simple faith that Jesus talked so much about. No complex theology, no seminars, no books on how to live your best, purpose-driven life. Just the simple faith of relying on a God who continually delivers what she needs.

Ecuador is no paradise, but God is alive and moving in the hearts of the people there. I yearn for a faith unencumbered by the stuff that invades my life here. God help us to lean on you, and you alone.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Why?


Why do we do what we do? Have we really sat and thought about the reasons why we do stuff? Especially church stuff?

A theology class I am taking recently forced me to think about what is embedded -taught by others and accepted by me -, and what is deliberative - what I have thought through and learned by asking questions. No shocker here, but I am more deliberative in my theology.

For example, why do we believe what we believe about creation? Some people are literal 7-day folks. Others see the Genesis account as more metaphorical than literal. Some see 2 creations in Genesis, with an intervening time between them. Others, like me, are say " I believe God created everything" and don't get into the discussion of 7 literal days. I've chosen that route because I just don't know the answer and I don't believe anyone on earth today has a definitive answer on the question of a 7 day creation. And I don't think it really matters. But I do wonder why we believe what we do.

That's really the question. Is it because of the church we attend? The way we were raised? Because we are trying to impress someone? Or have we truly searched the scriptures, sought God's face, and believe this is the answer He has given us?

Will our entire theology collapse if we do not believe in this issue. Or is this just something we have been taught and reflexively spout when asked.

I'd love to hear your thoughts on this.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

The apocalypse

In a previous post I mentioned that the Detroit Tigers were in first place, which was causing a cosmic disturbance of epic proportions. Folks, it is much worse than that. The Tigers are in the World Series. And they are the favorite by most accounts.

This is really big. This is a team that set the American League record for losses three years ago when they posted a splendid 43-119 record. That is a record only surpassed by the New York Mets when they were an expansion team.

Yet three years later, the Tigers have mown down the mighty Yankees and swept the A's. My head is spinning.

I'm piling up my mashed potatoes and heading for Devil's Tower. I'm sure that something is coming, alien or apocalypse. I just want to be prepared.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Humility


Do you ever have one of those "God Moments" that just humbles you to your core? One of those times when a truth is spectacularly revealed to you or the Spirit speaks so clearly that it is unmistakeable? They are not frequent for me, but I just had one.

The Lord spoke to me through a person who told me that I am where I am for a specific purpose, and then spoke about that purpose. Without giving away details, he told me how my knowledge, skills, and gifts etc. assisted him with an ongoing issue. I didn't think a great deal about it at the moment, because I changed the subject (which is how I deflect praise) but later that night the Spirit clearly spoke to me about it.

All of the grief, trouble and heartache that put us there now pale in comparison with the thought that I was sent by God for a specific purpose and task. What a humbling thought that is to me. We came to the thought that God may be using me as a transitional figure, which, looking at my past, is a possiblity. Like John the Baptist, I may be used to end one era and usher in a new one. In many ways I hope that is not the case, because that implies a great deal of change and bumping and rubbing. But, God is sovereign and I am not

Monday, October 09, 2006

Miracles and Wonders

In Paul Simon's masterful Graceland album, there is a song called "Boy in the Bubble" that describes the world 20 years later.

The Boy In The Bubble

It was a slow day
And the sun was beating
On the soldiers by the side of the road
There was a bright light
A shattering of shop windows
The bomb in the baby carriage
Was wired to the radio

These are the days of miracle and wonder
This is the long distance call
The way the camera follows us in slo-mo
The way we look to us all
The way we look to a distant constellation
That’s dying in a corner of the sky
These are the days of miracle and wonder
And don’t cry baby don’t cry
Don’t cry

It was a dry wind
And it swept across the desert
And it curled into the circle of birth
And the dead sand
Falling on the children
The mothers and the fathers
And the automatic earth
These are the days of miracle and wonder
This is the long distance call
The way the camera follows us in slo-mo
The way we look to us all
The way we look to a distant constellation
That’s dying in the corner of the sky
These are the days of miracle and wonder
And don’t cry baby don’t cry
Don’t cry

It’s a turn-around jump shot
It’s everybody jump start
It’s every generation throws a hero up the pop charts
Medicine is magical and magical is art
The Boy in the Bubble
And the baby with the baboon heart

And I believe
These are the days of lasers in the jungle
Lasers in the jungle somewhere
Staccato signals of constant information
a loose affiliation of millionaires
And billionaires and baby
These are the days of miracle and wonder
This is the long distance call
The way the camera follows us in slo-mo
The way we look to us all
The way we look to a distant constellation
That’s dying in a corner of the sky
These are the days of miracle and wonder
And don’t cry baby don’t cry
Don’t cry

© 1986 Paul Simon
Music by Paul Simon and Forere Motloheloa

We still have bombs in baby carriages, cars, buses and any other device that can transport a bomb. North Korea just detonated a nuclear device, much to the world's chagrin. We plan trips to Mars, watch space shuttles disintegrate before our very eyes, and are working on laser-based missile defense systems.

At the same time, we have breath-taking advances in medicine, robotics, nanotechnology and circuitry. These truly are the days of miracles and wonders.

I was painting my garage listening to that song and it just struck me. Not much has changed in 20 years. And it is still a bit scary.



Follow-up

Check out this article on Finding God's will from the most recent issue of Holiness Today, published by the Church of the Nazarene. It adds to my previous post.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Will


What is God's will for our lives? Is it something written before our birth that if we deviate from we will live a life of misery? It it set in stone, or is it a flexible, fluid concept that we strive to stay inside. I hear a lot of talk about God's will, and good Christians can even disagree about what God's will is in a particular situation. The better question is how do we go about discerning the will of God?

There are many ways to seek God's will. We could do the Elijah, and throw ourselves in the desert and beg for death. That works if you have a desert handy, and some birds, but not all of us have those readily available.

For me, the best is to search the scriptures and see if it is mentioned there. If the Bible teaches that something is permissible or forbidden, then the story ends there. If the question is not directly answered, the process becomes more problematic. Prayer is always the best option, even when searching the scriptures. Prayer allows the Holy Spirit to more easily guide our thoughts. It also opens our heart to other-centeredness, which is almost always a good thing. It quiets our soul, which allows us to hear His voice more readily. And God does speak through prayer.

The real sticking point is when scripture leaves the issue alone, and prayer doesn't produce a discernible answer. Such as in a new job offer. Assuming the job is not in an immoral business, how do we know whether to accept the new offer and leave our current job? That is an agonizingly tough call for many people. I guess this is where we look at a cost/benefit analysis of the new job, or whatever the situation is. Will the negatives outweigh the positives? What will it cost my family? Lost time with me? Additional communting costs? Stress?

Here is where good counsel from mature Christians can play a role. They can help you walk through the process without judgment and join you in prayer. If the person has your best interests and God's instruction at heart, their role can be a great asset. Just be cautious in whom you seek counsel. Job received some bad advice from good people. And that still happens today.

If you have additional thoughts on finding God's will, I'd love to hear them.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Evil


The Bible uses the word EVIL more than 400 times. But what is evil? From a narcissistic point of view it is bad things that happen to us. But that is an incomplete definition, because it excludes the thought that evil can originate in us. I prefer to think of evil as that which causes us to sin and violate God's righteousness.

This week America's thoughts have been on the horrific events of September 11, 2001. On that day, America realized that there are evil people who hate us and want to kill us. We all knew this in the back of our minds, but on that day it became a front-burner issue. And most of us viscerally felt the rage, disgust, horror, fear and helplessness of watching our fellow citizens die in an unimaginable horror.

What happened that day was evil. Al Qaeda and its associated groups launched an attack on innocent civilians to make a political point. That is the basis of terrorism. What they did was evil. More than 2800 people died that day, and thousands more in the wars that have followed as the United States and its allies pursue terror groups around the world.

I appreciate the President using the term "evil" to describe the people who did this and their actions. Moral clarity is helpful when dealing with evil. And this type of evil is pretty easy to recognize. But there are other types of evil that are less evident. But they are evil nonetheless. And allowing evil to fester in our midst is always a bad thing.

Why do we allow subcultures to abuse their members? There are immigrants to this country who work in virtual slavery to pay off the fee for their transport. Leviticus 19:34 instructs Israel to treat aliens as one of their own. Shouldn't we?

Why do we allow corporations in the U.S to sell goods made with slave labor, or near-slave labor, in Third-World countries? Better yet, why do we buy those goods?

Why do we look the other way and allow drug communities to exist in our cities as long as the violence that accompanies drug dealing stays in that neighborhood? What about the innocent people trapped by economic circumstance in those communities? Don't they deserve the same protection the suburbs receive?

Why do we allow inner-city school children to receive a sub-standard education? Many cities have made dramatic improvements, but there are still far too many children trapped in schools that cannot properly educate them. These kids will be hampered for the rest of their lives, but that doesn't bother many of us. Why is that?

Sept. 11 was a day of evil actions. But evil abounds in the world, and we can stamp out many types of evil in our local communities. We just have to see the evil around us.

Friday, September 08, 2006

This is wretched

Isaiah had it right in Chapter 5, verse 20: Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter.

Read this story and just think about how wrong it is that we as a society celebrate people like this. She, and the whole Hollywood culture, are so narcissistic it makes me ill. Maybe that is why I don't watch network news shows anymore. Other than her fine acting in "The Simple Life" and a homemade porn video, why do we know who Paris Hilton is? It's not as if she is a consequential person who has done significant things. She is a party-girl heiress with a good publicist.

This is America?

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Crikey


Sadly, we mark the death of one of my daughter's favorite TV personalities, Steve Irwin, aka The Crocodile Hunter. While I was not a fan of his over-the-top reptilian hunting, my kids liked the show, and he did an excellent job of explaining habitat and how many violent animal-human interactions could be prevented if we were more sensitive to the animal. Basically, don't corner them, frighten them (especially their young) and watch where you are walking.

Americans tend to have a poor attitude toward wildlife that is not convenient for their viewing pleasure. I'll confess that I have killed my share of racoons and skunks for various garbage can infractions. But Irwin did show us how to respect God's creation and demonstrate the purposes that some of the creatures have.

He will be missed. He leaves behind a wife and two small children, who need our prayers.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Contentment

Phillippians 4:11 I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. 12 I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.

This is not my favorite part of the Bible, simply because contentment is an unfinished issue in my life. By nature I am a restless spirit and I simply have to work at contentment, and accepting what the Lord has for me at any given point in time. One of the things that drives me nuts is that the Lord gave me eyes that can see the possible and a spirit that wants to get there right now. Such is my ministry preparation. I'm pushing 40, enrolled in Asbury Seminary, and have all sorts of great ideas. But, as the chorus goes, "In His Time", is not matching up with my time.

Last week we bid farewell to our closest friends, the Risters, as they packed up and moved to Colorado Springs so John can begin classes at Nazarene Bible College. John and I share many things, including a call to professional ministry. His wife and my wife are the closest of friends, and our children cannot remember life without each other. It was truly a bittersweet moment as we said our goodbyes after helping them pack their U-Haul. And I was envious.

Envious that God had opened a door for John where Ford Motor Company offered him a buyout that includes paying for his education. Envious that they get to move to one of the most beautiful places that I have ever been. And envious that their sense of direction seems stronger than mine.

But I know what God has asked me to do, and I continue to prepare for whatever he has in store for us. I rejoice in the Rister's sense of purpose. And for the way God has opened doors for them. Pray that I can be patient enough to wait on his time. I know He has doors to open for me.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

A Big Day


Saturday, August 20, was a memorable one for our household. Bandit, our 7 month-old puppy, decided to make his bid for freedom around 1 p.m. He dug under the downspout extension, and crawled out a 6-inch gap and took off. Mind you, the night before he had broken the ring that held his tag and dog license. So he was completely footloose and fancy free.

My wife called me at the office to see if I had the dog and then discovered the escape. When I arrived at home my wife, daughter and daughter's friend were out riding their bikes and calling Bandit's name.

From about 2 p.m. until 7:30 we continued looking for him, broken only long enough to attend an open house for a couple that eloped in June. As the day wore on, my attitude toward this moronic mutt became progressively less charitable, especially as I tired of sitting on a bicycle seat.

Our break came around 7 when a lady said she had seen him downtown on Front Street. I rode down and went into a restaurant to see if they had seen him. It turns out that they had seen him running in and out of traffic and tried to tie him up. When that failed, they took him to a nearby park where the Monroe Fire Department was holding a children's event. A kind fireman took him to the Humane Society, where we picked him up the next day. Many thanks to Julie and her staff at the Monroe Street Grill and the Monroe Fire Department for taking care of our wayward canine.

But as my attitude darkened, the Lord reminded me of the parable of the lost sheep in Luke 15:4: "Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Does he not leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? I have never lost a sheep, heck, I don't even like sheep. But I do know that in the bottom of my heart, I was sick with the thought that he might be hurt, dead or taken. And I'm really glad to have him back.

If I can be that happy about my wayward dog, how much more joy is there in heaven when a wayward soul returns home? And how do I put that joy in my heart for the souls that return? That is where I need God's grace to celebrate with others. I get so caught up in my own world that I don't appreciate what God is doing around me. Just what he has done for me lately.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Here we go again

What is it about blowing up airplanes that thrills Muslim terrorists so much? Five years after 9/11/2001, the shoe bomber and countless other plots, here we are again with British authorities stopping a terrorist plot to drop planes from the sky.

In my recent Christian Ethics class, we had to think through some tough just war theory applications. Terrorism is a tough one. The war is always asymmetrical, the opponents aren't easily identified, and often to remove them, you have to attack a failed state that is harboring them.

God help us as we go forward. This is going to go on for a long time.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Too much time on their hands

Isn't New Jersey the state the shut down it's government over a budget impasse? This may explain why. If the state legislature has nothing better to do than this, then it is no surprise that their state is a mess. What a waste of tax dollars.

It seems the link is password protected. Here is the article from the August 9 Wall Street Journal.

Naming a State Dirt
Just Doesn't Wash
With New Jerseyites

'Downer,' the Candidate Loam,
Can't Get Senate Notice;
Enemy of Lawn and Order
By BARRY NEWMAN
August 9, 2006; Page A1

TOMS RIVER, N.J. -- As its license plates affirm, New Jersey is the Garden State. Where does its garden grow? It grows in dirt, which is why asking the state legislature to designate an official New Jersey state dirt sounded like a nice idea to David Friedman.

"It connects plants and animals and water and everything," said Mr. Friedman, a tall 55-year-old who runs the Ocean County soil-conservation district, here on the coastal plain between New York and Atlantic City. On a hot afternoon, he was driving his Subaru toward the broad, burnt lawn of the East Dover Baptist Church.

[David Friedman]

"What's beneath our feet," Mr. Friedman continued, "is a whole other world of earth and worms and...help me out, Chris."

"And roots and organisms," said Chris Miller, a specialist with the U.S. Agriculture Department who was on an inspection tour; he was riding in the back seat.

"They all serve," Mr. Friedman said. "If we manage what's below our feet, it's going to benefit mankind."

The sentiment appealed to Douglas Fisher, chairman of the state Assembly's Agriculture Committee. Encouraged by Mr. Friedman, he co-sponsored a bill naming a sandy loam called Downer soil as New Jersey's official dirt. Also known as "sugar sand," Downer blankets Ocean County; it's the commonest dirt in the state.

By unanimous vote, the Assembly passed the bill in May, prompting local resident Jay Lomberk to write to the Asbury Park Press: "State dirt? Are you kidding?" And another local, Jackie Daly, to write: "If it weren't so pathetic, it would be funny." There were lots of editorials, too.

Mr. Fisher is sure the mockery explains why no senator followed his dirt bill with one in the state's upper chamber. Earlier this year, Mr. Fisher nominated the tomato as New Jersey's official vegetable. The tomato is a fruit, but Mr. Fisher cited a U.S. Supreme Court decision from 1893 to prove that tomatoes are vegetables in the eyes of the law.

"The tomato didn't go anywhere, either," he says. "Didn't even pass the Assembly. Legislators think these bills make them look stupid. You can reduce anything to folly if you keep working at it."

Hard at work across America, state legislatures have lately ordained official fossils, odes, dogs and doughnuts. Bob Akerle of Netstate.com, a Web site that tracks these bills, says his count of new proposals is nearing 60 for this year. Where official symbols once stopped at flags, flowers and anthems, they total in the hundreds now. A few months ago, South Carolina made boiled peanuts its official snack food. Hawaii just installed the humuhumunukunukuapua'a as its official fish.

United Square Dancers of America has lobbied Congress to make the square dance a national symbol, alongside the flag, the rose and the bald eagle. "What with the war, we were not able to pass it," says Alitia Becker, the group's Plains region vice president. But it has persuaded 31 state legislatures -- New Jersey's included -- that they need an official folk dance, and that the square dance is it.

Until July 1, only Vermont had an official pie (apple). Now Florida has passed a pie act (Key lime) and the American Pie Council has hopes for pecan (Georgia) and cherry (Michigan). "People like to invoke a feeling of America," says Linda Hoskins, the pie council's executive director. "Nothing invokes America like pie."

Sure enough, but even officialdom can get fed up. Florida's lawmakers saw no use for a state rock; Ocala limestone met defeat in April. Last month, Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco vetoed the newly written "I Love My Louisiana" as state poem, citing its lack of literary merit. In March, the Utah Legislature killed the rattlesnake's bid for state reptile.

Unlike rocks, snakes and poetry, the official-dirt movement, a loose amalgam of soil scientists, had run into little resistance up to now. Florida named a dirt (Myakka) in 1989. West Virginia did it (Monongahela) in 1997, and Illinois (Drummer) in 2001. Georgia is getting set to name red clay. All told, 21 states have honored dirt.

"There's no financial motivation, like there is with pie," Mr. Friedman was saying as he drove up to the Baptist Church and parked at the curb. He opened his trunk, got out a rubber-handled steel spike and added: "I don't think this should be a controversial issue in New Jersey."

Except for one thing: Mr. Friedman's homage to Downer soil also happens to be a philosophical challenge to what federal researchers recently identified as America's biggest crop.

The lawn.

At the East Dover Baptist Church, the lawn, initially planted in Downer, was now parched and firm. Mr. Friedman started across, paused, and jammed the spike as deep as it would go into the surface crust. It stopped at two inches.

"This is what happens in suburbia," said his colleague, Mr. Miller. Like lawns everywhere, this one had been flattened and turned during construction before it was grassed over. When dirt gets crushed, grass can't sink roots deep enough to drink up water from below; it has to be watered by hoses and sprinklers more and more. Because the dirt can't absorb it all, the water runs off into drains. In Ocean County, lawn fertilizer is then sluiced into barrier-island bays, helping breed algae that can starve fish of oxygen.

By contrast, under a pine stand in a far corner of the church lawn, a patch of Downer had survived in its spongy, primordial state. Mr. Friedman walked over and easily drove his spike up to the handle. He cleared the leaf duff with his book and scooped up two handfuls of the fragrant, sandy loam. "Plenty of pore space," he said, and Mr. Miller added: "It's best as woodland, a natural woodland soil."

Once, Ocean County was almost all woodland, and its population included 2.6 million hens. It has 500,000 people now, most in houses with lawns, plus 93 gated subdivisions for retirees and more on the way.

"Lawns," said Mr. Miller from the back seat as Mr. Friedman drove west toward Lakehurst. "Personally, I don't know what the draw is." The Subaru passed a string of "active adult communities," their new houses standing on treeless greensward. "That's how they build," Mr. Friedman said. "They clear everything."

He stopped at the edge of a future old-age compound called "River Pointe." Banners with pictures of smiling couples hung from poles. Behind them lay 165 humpy, windblown acres. Root-rakers had pulled out the scrub oak and pitch pine. Graders had sheared off the topsoil and stockpiled it. A backhoe was digging a storm drain.

Two surveyors stood at the roadside. Mr. Friedman walked over to introduce himself and offer his views on lawn abuse. "That was Downer soil," he said, looking over his shoulder. "It no longer is."

"Unfortunately, I'm responsible for clearing this," said one of the surveyors, Doug Falkinburg. "That's progress."

Mr. Friedman brought up his legislative campaign, pointing out that New Jersey has a state bird (goldfinch), a state tree (red oak) and a state dinosaur (Hadrosaurus foulkii), but no state dirt, the thing that holds it all together. "People didn't see the value," he said, mentioning that Downer, which almost covers the southern half of the state, was the candidate.

As Mr. Friedman left, the surveyor watched silently, and then he gave the dirt a kick. "Hey, I'm a South Jersey guy, too," he called out. "You got my vote!"

Write to Barry Newman at barry.newman@wsj.com1

URL for this article:
http://online.wsj.com/article/SB115508792324430654.html

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Broken things


I was driving down M-50 toward church on Sunday and saw a big maple tree that had lost one of it's main branches. The site where the branch ripped out left a big ugly scar and a gaping hole in the tree, which sits in someone's front yard. My first thought was "why don't they cut that down, it looks nasty" but then the Lord began to speak to me.

I began to realize that while the tree was not what it once was, it was still extremely useful. It still provided shade, the gaping hole had birds transiting in and out of it, and probably nesting there, and all sorts of bugs and beetles are probably making that their home. Sure the tree isn't as pretty as it once was, but it still does some things very well.

People are like that too. Some are physically broken, like the tree. They have injuries or a lifetime of trauma that has left their body bent and broken. But they still have value and can add to the church and community with their contributions.

Others are emotionally or spiritually broken, and their wounds are not always obvious. But they are real. And we have to take them into account when dealing with people. I have not always been good at this, but it is an area where the Lord is working in my life right now.

By nature I am a pusher. I keep moving and prod people to keep moving. But I sometimes push too hard for where people are at that moment. The Spirit has been good to me lately in letting me know when to ease up, and I've been trying hard to listen.

Let's celebrate the broken things. Let's fix what we can, use what we can, throw away what we must and celebrate what we have. God uses broken things, and broken people. So can his church.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

The Banquet

I just finished watching Antwone Fisher, a touching story of a young man trying to find his family and his place in the world. Denzel Washington gives his usual superb performance, and Joy Bryant and Derek Luke are wonderful in their biggest roles to date.

There is a scene near the end where Antwone is welcomed into a family he has never known (you have to watch the movie) and he is overwhelmed by the love shown to him. Everyone comes up to him, hugs him, claps his back and welcomes him into the family.

This reminds me of what heaven will be like. When a new person whom we never knew is welcomed into the Kingdom of God, he or she is welcomed with open arms and a great banquet is thrown. Matthew 22 talks about who will come to the banquet that the Lord has thrown. Antwone Fisher is the kind of person who will be invited - orphaned, abused, and neglected. Maybe that is why I had tears in my eyes as I watched this. God has such a tender heart for those who have been mistreated. Just read Amos.

And watch the movie. There is a lot of bad language, but that scene is priceless.