Monday, July 31, 2006

TiVo, Advertising and God

TiVo and other DVRs (digital video recorders) have made TV commercials ever more challenging. Advertisers were already perplexed about how to get viewers to watch their commercials rather than using the remote to flip through channels during programming breaks.

Now with TiVo’s ability to zip through commercials at high speed the challenge has taken a new twist. Enter Kentucky Fried Chicken. In their recent advertising campaign they designed a commercial that requires you to view it in slow motion, frame by frame, in order to see a hidden message. The message contains a password with which you can download a coupon for a free Buffalo KFC Snacker. Already the company has given away 75,000 coupons but they remain concerned because such ad campaigns have to practically become news stories themselves to work.

I’m part of their challenge. I love my TiVo for the very reason that I have control of my viewing. I decide when I want to watch a program and I always zip through the commercials. I don’t even watch sporting events live anymore. I’ll let my TiVo record 30 minutes to an hour and then I’ll tune in so I can skip through the commercials.

This is a big deal to companies peddling their products. For viewers who miss commercials it all means control and convenience.

What if? What if I develop a deep yearning for control and convenience? Could that be dangerous for me? Nothing else in life can be so controlled and so convenient. Not my marriage. Not my work. Not my health. Certainly not my relationship with God.

What does it take for God to get your attention? Does God have to send you specially coded messages or write something in the sky? Does it take personal crisis to prompt you to think about God?

I invite you to reflect on the fact that God is not a peddler of salvation products. He doesn’t have to have your attention for His sake. You want to change channels or zip through His stirrings around your life, that’s fine. He’s not the loser. We are. Perhaps today is a day to respond when God stirs your heart and examine it frame by frame.

Saturday, July 29, 2006

In God We Trust

Sunday July 30 will be the 50th anniversary of “In God We Trust” being the official motto of the United States. That act of Congress is of some controversy today. There are those who would like to have the motto dropped because it seems to be a case of government establishing religion.

Those feelings of opposition have not always been so. I’m not referring to 1956. There was even some opposition then. I’m referring to 1861. In the aftermath of our Civil War Secretary of the Treasury, Salmon P. Chase, received many appeals from people across the country to recognize God on United States coins. On November 20, 1861, Secretary Chase instructed James Pollack, director of the Philadelphia mint, to prepare such a motto opining, “No nation can be strong except in the strength of God, or safe except in His defense. The trust of our people should be declared on our national coins.”

“In God We Trust” first appeared on a two-cent coin in 1864 by an Act of Congress in April of that year and so it has been since.

Whether you appreciate or dislike the motto on American currency, reflect with me for a moment on the meaning. Obviously many of us place a lot of trust and hope in money. We work hard for it. We plan extensively how to save, invest and spend it. We worry about money and when we have some we celebrate money. For the most part Americans could more accurately be described as “In Money We Trust”.

What if? What if we really did trust in God instead of money? What if God really does do all that the Bible and believers claim? If God truly holds the power of life and the wisdom on how to live it would we dare trust money more than our Maker?

If you haven’t settled the issue of God’s trustworthiness then perhaps today is a day for you to spend some time in thought and even prayer. I consider this to be THE most important issue in life.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Monopoly & Dealing with Loss

Monopoly, the board game upon which many of us learned how to count money as we bought and sold properties is going cashless. According to an Associated Press story, the new version will feature the use of a VISA-imprinted debit card that is swiped into a palm-sized scanner in order to close a deal.

The game has been around since the beginning of the 20th century in a variety of forms. The standardized form that most of us know was patented in 1935 by Parker Brothers.

My point of reflection took place on the AP comment that Monopoly became popular around the time of the Great Depression because it offered a form of escapism during our country's worst financial crisis. Players were allowed to pretend that they had money when they in fact didn't.

There's nothing wrong with "pretend" or using one's imagination. However, many of us have an aversion to experiencing or feeling our losses. Some of us are experiencing the loss of youth, the loss of a loving relationship, the loss of health or dozens of other losses that could be mentioned.

Interestingly, when Jesus lived as a fully human person on our planet 2,000 years ago He didn't insulate Himself from experiencing loss. He was acquainted with sorrow, grief and pain. Jesus also instructed us, "Blessed are they that mourn, for they shall be comforted."

It occurs to me that many never reach the state of "comfort" because they fail to mourn. A Christian kind of mourning is not just sitting in a corner feeling sad but rather a turning to Jesus with our sadness. It is having a hope and confidence that Jesus will use our loss to bring blessing in some kind of way. Perhaps today is a day to risk dealing with your loss by looking to Jesus.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Tiger Woods & Dealing With Loss

Sunday Tiger Woods won the British Open again shooting a –18 under par. As usual it was a great display of professional golf. If you’re not a golf fan I should mention that Tiger is not only known for exceptional athletic ability but for extraordinary capacity to focus.

Though Tiger won, the story that all of the media was interested in was Tiger’s loss. If you didn’t see the finish, after the final putt and victory was assured Tiger uncharacteristically broke down in deep sobs. Tiger is usually the picture of emotional control, a kind of stoicism. But on this occasion Tiger was raw emotion.

This past May Tiger experienced his greatest loss in his 30 year life, the death of his father, Earl Woods. Though Tiger is a “once in a lifetime” golf talent, much of the reason he is a dominant force in professional sports is due to his father’s influence. In his post tournament interview Tiger commented about how he wished his father was there to see the victory and then with a broken voice said, “I just miss him so much.”

In a day of epidemic absentee fathers it is a great story to see a close father-son relationship. The point I want to zero in on is this: Tiger’s greatest sense of loss was felt at his moment of victory.
Tiger had been mourning his father’s death for over two months but by his own admission he had been keeping it bottled in so that he could focus on his game. He wanted to win one for his father. So, at the moment of victory Sunday all of that pent up grief came gushing forth.

We are complex people. The Bible says we are intricately woven. Though we may struggle to understand ourselves and certainly we struggle to understand others, God always and completely knows what is happening with us. He is full of compassion and what the Bible calls “tender mercies”. If you don’t know God in this kind of “fatherly” way, I encourage you to move closer to Him.

Friday, July 21, 2006

Winston Churchill & the Power of Heritage

Today I visited Blenheim Palace, north of Oxford in Woodstock, England. It is dubbed “Britain’s Greatest Palace”. It truly is something to behold. The amount of money it took to build this magnificent palace is troublesome to me but that’s for another post.

Blenheim Palace was a gift of appreciation to John Churchill, yes an ancestor to William Churchill, but I’m getting ahead of myself.

In the 18th century France, under King Louis XIV, was quickly overtaking all of Europe and it was only a matter of time and battle before England would also fall. Queen Anne called upon Fifty-four year old John Churchill, a distinguished general, to not only lead England but also the allied forces of that day. John Churchill gave what was later called the most masterful military leadership in English history and England defeated France. This was considered such a strategic turning point in English history that John Churchill has been honored and recognized like few others.

In tribute John Churchill was named The Duke of Marlborough and given Blenheim Palace. It was a few generations later that Winston Churchill was born in this very palace and raised nearby. Language fails me to supply enough adjectives to describe the beauty of the architecture, paintings, furnishings, and gardens.

I’ve gone on about this because I want to invite you to reflect on the childhood of young Winston. In addition to living a privileged life, Winston was immersed in stories, artistic renderings and national pride regarding the Duke. Imagine the inspiration, the vision and the yearning this would create in a young man who would later serve his country in the military, government and later as Prime Minister during World War II.

When Winston is giving those memorable wartime talks to, “Never, never, never give up…” he was not just throwing around rhetoric that would play well politically. He was possessed of this conviction in large part because of his heritage.

A follower of Jesus Christ is “born again” into the family of God. Jesus the Great, Jesus the Conqueror, Jesus the Redeemer & Savior, is our heritage. When you grow up with the stories, artistic renderings and global pride regarding the Christ, you are powerfully inspired to persevere and never give up in the pursuit of seeing God’s victories realized in today’s world for today’s people.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

C.S. Lewis & God

Clive Staples Lewis, also known as C.S. Lewis and referred to as “Jack” by his friends, is an esteemed author and Christian thinker…by Americans. This afternoon I had the fun opportunity to take a tour of various "C.S. Lewis stops" in Oxford, England. I saw the college where he taught, the magistrate house where he married, the home where he spent his weekends, the church where he worshiped and the pubs where he would have a drink with friends and talk about books.

There are many things that I find interesting about Lewis’ life. That which gives me cause to pause in reflection is that few people in Oxford know who Lewis was. In fact, ask 10 people if they know who C.S. Lewis was, 9 will not know!

Visiting Americans are stunned to find out that there are no statues, no museums, and no big deal about Lewis. It seems to be a case of; those who are closest to you take you most for granted.

The great exception to that phenomenon is God. No one knows you more thoroughly and completely than God and yet He never takes you for granted or ignores you. The Bible says that God knows you so well that He is aware of the number of hairs on your head. Yet, God never tires of you, is never too preoccupied to respond to you and actually longs for your friendship.

Don’t misunderstand. God is not some lonely loser that doesn’t have any other “friends” and is desperate for relationship with anyone. He is the embodiment of wholeness and completeness. He has no needs. Yet, He chooses to pursue you for friendship.

Have you taken a tour of “God stops” lately? Visit His church. Read His book. Spend time with others who have friendship with God. Refuse to be among the number of those who don’t know who God is.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

God Loves You: Good News?

Sunday afternoon was sunny and warm. I had taken a walk in the park with two friends and enjoyed stimulating conversation. Now we were on our way to a shop where I was about to delight in a waffle cone full of ice cream. There was a man standing in the middle of the sidewalk and as I approached he called out “God loves you,” and he tried to press a leaflet into my hand. It’s sometimes called “street witnessing”.

I believe that God loves me and that reality is good news to me in a very deep way. However, in the moment it didn’t feel like good news. It felt intrusive. I was enjoying a carefree afternoon with friends and someone that doesn’t know me was seeking to address me at profound level. I didn’t want to.

God loves you. Is that good news to you today? Since you’ve chosen to enter the conversation of my Blog perhaps we can speak of such things without it being a turn off to you.

To be loved by anyone requires that I respond in order for the love to touch me, bless me and enrich me. If I choose not to respond then the reality of God’s love falls flat before me as if a stranger on the street were calling to me.

Perhaps today is a day of response for you. Perhaps you would find it meaningful to click the link to the online Bible and read Psalm 23 or Romans 8:31-39. If so, let me suggest you read slowly as if savoring a tasty bite of favorite food. Whisper a prayer, “God, let these words make sense to me. Let me experience your love.”

“God loves you” really is good news. I’m praying for each reader today that such news is experienced as good.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

Expect Great Things From God

In 1793 William Carey made a 5-month journey to India with his wife and four small children because God had called him to be a missionary there. The life was hard and the sacrifice was great. Carey ran a business and established a missionary center and worked for 7 years before one person chose to follow Christ.

Carey's life statement was, Expect great things from God. Attempt great things for God. As a result of God's power to do great things and Carey's faith to believe it, over the course of 40 years Carey made more than 213,000 volumes of the Bible in 40 different languages from his small printing business, his personal translating work and general supervision. Carey had taught himself 8 languages. When Carey died in connection to his work there were 30 missionaries, 40 native teachers, 45 ministry stations and about 600 church members.

All of these "great things" were accomplished while Carey lived near Calcutta in the jungle among tigers and malaria.

If your idea of "missions" is that Christians force themselves into un-welcomed places and lives and force their beliefs on people, let me ask you to think again. Surely that scenario has been played out in some situations but the Christian mission is not to be so. Carey created schools, provided education and literacy and enabled capacities for others to experience a way of life many times greater than they would have known otherwise. This "service" was rendered whether or not individuals were interested in Christianity.

When William Carey died Hindus and Muslims lined the streets of his funeral procession feeling that they had lost a true friend.

I repeat Carey's life statement for our reflection:
Expect great things from God. Attempt great things for God.

Christ gives His followers a mission. When we live the mission great things happen (great as God defines great). Do you dare expect and attempt great things for God?

Friday, July 14, 2006

Being Called By God

The Bible features many stories of God “calling” a person to follow Him and to live out a specific mission. When God calls He also provides all the grace, power and wisdom that is needed to carry out the mission.

William Carey was a cobbler living in England in the 1700’s. As he grew in His love for God he found an increasing love for humanity taking place at the same time. He became burdened for those around the globe that had never heard the message about Jesus Christ coming into our world in order to be a bridge so that a fallen person could be connected to and have relationship with a holy God.

Carey educated himself and began teaching geography. His students would sometimes weep when they would hear Carey’s broken heart for others. He frequently prayed over a globe, asking God to reach out to and bless other people groups. Eventually this lead to Carey feeling called by God to go to India with the gospel.

Carey literally spent the rest of his life creating schools for general education, equipping people to do work and earn a living, and most of all, teaching about Christ and starting churches for those who chose to follow Christ.

William Carey is referred to as “the father of the modern missionary movement.”

This week I’m in England and studying at Regent’s Park College in Oxford. As I visited the library today I saw on display the couch upon which Carey died in 1834. For a moment I was arrested as I reflected on the man, his faithfulness and the similar mission I am also called to live.

I contend that every person that chooses to follow Christ is at some point called to live a mission. By no means does that mean that all become missionaries to India. It does mean that all become missionaries somewhere, like your neighborhood, office or social circles.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Is God Safe?

In C.S. Lewis' story, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, a young girl named Lucy is told that Aslan (a lion who is also a Christ figure) is "on the run". Everyone in the room is excited that the "presence of God" will be among them.

Lucy is not sure what she thinks about the announcement so she asks about Aslan, "Is he safe?" The honest and insightful reply is, "No, he's not safe, but he is good."

There are many things that move me in Lewis' story and that line moves me most. Our contemporary temptation is to try to "tame" God. We sometimes emphasize His love, compassion and goodness to such an extent that we domesticate God in our thinking.

In the Bible and in our experience we also discover that God is dangerous! He is dangerous when it comes to evil, wickedness, injustice and haughtiness. I'm grateful to know and to follow a God who is not weak or timid but bold and powerful. And, He's good.

On a personal note, I leave Thursday for London where I will get to visit C.S. Lewis' home as I attend a conference at Oxford. My posts over the next few days may be infrequent since I'm not sure how much access to the Internet I'll have.

Talk with you soon.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

A Fresh Look at Church

When I say the word "church" what comes to your mind? For some it is rules, regulations, boring sermons and services. For others it is condescension and condemnation. In the non-profit sector I hear words like isolationist and parasite.

There's nothing attractive about any of these descriptors. It raises the question, "Why would anyone with limited time and resource involve themselves in a church?"

My answer is that church is a place where I experience God's presence. Church is a community of people that God uses to touch and change my life for the better.

Because every church is filled with broken, sinful people (I'm one) the church will often do broken, sinful things. There are still local congregations that hurt parishioners and isolate themselves from the greater community. But, in my observation the number of congregations that are becoming powerfully, positive places of communion with God and connection with community is dramatically increasing.

I'm privileged to see significant life change taking place every week. In Redmond I see churches that feed the hungry, counsel and care for the disturbed and depressed, encourage and lift those that are fallen and inspire those who are breathless in trying to "do it all".

Have you had a fresh look at church lately?

Monday, July 10, 2006

America and the Bible

Mark Noll writes in the Wall Street Journal a reflection about America's use of the Bible in times past.

The opening paragraph reads--In 1911 the English-speaking world paused to mark the 300th anniversary of the King James Version (KJV) of the Bible, with American political leaders foremost in the chorus of exaltation. To former president Theodore Roosevelt, this Bible translation was "the Magna Carta of the poor and the oppressed . . . the most democratic book in the world." Soon-to-be president Woodrow Wilson said much the same thing: "The Bible (with its individual value of the human soul) is undoubtedly the book that has made democracy and been the source of all progress."

As America has made room for greater diversity at the "table of ideas" it seems to me that some have wanted to remove the Bible from the discussion. I'm grateful to live in our day and I welcome robust discussion of ideas and beliefs. If someone wants to bring the teachings of another faith into the conversation then I will be the first to seek to listen. However, let's have a real conversation. If the Bible has been used as a "club" in your life in times past I sincerely regret that you suffered its misuse. Many of us have found it to be the fountain of truth from which to take a deep drink.

From the pages of the Bible I've discovered how to have closeness with God, how to love my wife, raise my children, sacrifice my life on behalf of others and conduct myself with honesty, mercy and generosity. It is a great treasure to my daily living.

Saturday, July 08, 2006

Ken Lay & Justice

This past week Kenneth Lay, former CEO of Enron suddenly passed away at age 64 from heart disease. Most are aware of his rise to stardom in the business world and his quick demise that not only took down a company but destroyed the financial lives of many. In May Mr. Lay was convicted on 6 counts of fraud and conspiracy and 4 counts of bank fraud. He was to be sentenced this Fall. Each count carried a sentence of 5-10 years so it was likely Mr. Lay was going to spend the rest of his life in prison.

Now we're told that his conviction will likely be erased because of his death. Apparently the law views it as though he had never been indicted, tried and convicted because an appeal was pending at the time of his death.

Needless to say the many who have been hurt by Mr. Lay's actions feel that they have been robbed of justice. In their mind having to spend years behind bars and pay millions in fines and settlements would be justice. In our world there is truth to that line of thought.

However, in my mind Mr. Lay is in a far worse state. If Mr. Lay had lived he would have had opportunity to repent, make restitution (to some level) and reconcile himself with God and others. Now that opportunity is no more. Now Mr. Lay stands before the King of kings and the Lord of lords. There will be no legal maneuvers and no loop holes. He will be judged.

On a personal level I grieve for his family and for all those that have suffered because of his actions. I'm also moved to examine my own life. If I (you) should die today, am I (are you) prepared to stand before a holy and righteous Judge?

Let us receive His mercy and grace TODAY to right wrongs, pursue and give forgiveness, reconcile and make restitution. We're not promised tomorrow.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Man Freed After Wrongful Conviction

The Associated Press carried the following story--

NEW YORK - A man who spent more than two decades in prison after being wrongfully convicted of a brutal rape was freed Thursday because DNA evidence has cleared him.
Relatives of Alan Newton, 44, whooped loudly as he entered the crowded courtroom. Newton stood quietly in a beige suit and bright blue shirt as Judge John Byrne signed the order declaring him free.

After his paperwork was processed, he stepped outside the courthouse, thanking his attorneys and offering his sympathy to the woman whose rape led to his wrongful conviction.

"My unjust conviction denied both of us justice," Newton said. "It opens up old wounds and denies her closure."

Wow. How does someone have that much grace and forgiveness in his heart? I searched this story across several news services and none of them mentioned whether faith played a role. Is it possible for someone to be full of grace and forgiveness without receiving grace and forgiveness from God?

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

"I don't believe in God"

Last night I watched again the movie, The Count of Monte Cristo. The 2002 film features Mt. Vernon, Washington native, Jim Caviezel who plays Edmond Dantes. Edmond is a virtuous young man who is betrayed by his best friend and ends up exiled in a prison on an island, a sort of French Alcatraz.

For years Edmond is imprisoned in solitary confinement and tortured with regularity until one day he is surprised by another prisoner who mistakenly has dug a tunnel into Edmond’s cell rather than out of the prison. The other prisoner is a priest who befriends and mentors Edmond.

It’s a great story of redemption that is told well in the movie. I draw your attention to one line for reflection.

On a day when the priest is about to die Edmond speaks of his desire for revenge on his betrayers. The old priest exhorts that he must not pursue revenge because, “Revenge is Mine says the Lord.” Edmond declares, “I don’t believe in God.” The old priest replies, “You may not believe in God, but God believes in you.”

God believes in you. God daily pursues you. Edmond later discovered how real and redemptive God is. Perhaps today would be a good day to pray a prayer; “God, would You show Yourself to me in some way that I can get it?”

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Independence Day

"Proclaim Liberty throughout all the land unto all the inhabitants thereof."
--Leviticus 25:10

This verse is inscribed on the Liberty Bell, which was rung in Philadelphia to call citizens to Independence Hall to hear a public reading of the new Declaration of Independence.

Taking the name "Independence Day" to heart I repeat these questions:
Independence from what?
Independence for what?
Independence for whom?

"The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has chosen me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind; to set free the oppressed and announce that the time has come when the Lord will save his people."
--Jesus, Luke 4:18-19

Sunday, July 02, 2006

"Will Warren Buffet Go To Heaven?"

Big billionaire news over the past few days. First Bill Gates (#1 rich guy) announces that he will step down from daily involvement at Microsoft in a couple of years so that he can bring more focus and direction to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The BMG Foundation has focused on health issues (especially AIDS) and education. The case can be made that their foundation has made a lot of difference and has powerful potential.

Then Warren Buffet (#2 rich guy) announces that he is going to give about $31 Billion of his worth to the BFM Foundation which doubles the assets of the foundation to about $60 Billion! The world will watch with great interest to see what the BMG Foundation will do.

USA Today's telling of Buffet's contribution quoted Buffet as saying, "There is more than one way to get to heaven, but this is a great one." I have no idea if Buffet was serious or not but the comment certainly reflects the common opinion of many Americans.

Many have concluded that there are many ways of going to heaven and, most believe going to heaven is about being a good person.

As a Bible-believing Christian I accept what Jesus said as recorded in John 14:6, "I am the way, the truth and the life, no one comes to the Father but by Me." I understand that not everyone accepts what the Bible says as truth. But, if you don't accept the Bible I have two questions--

1. What will be your source of truth? Popular opinion? What makes sense or seems fair to you? You can't accept all religions as "truth" because they differ too much. Someone has to be wrong.

2. If there are many ways to go to heaven and just being good gets you there then the death of Jesus was unnecessary. Hundreds of early Christians died a martyr's death because they believed that Jesus' death was redemptive and unique. Whatever you think about Christians and Christianity the crucifixion of Jesus is a huge historical event.

Who gets to go to heaven?

Saturday, July 01, 2006

Superman Returns

Much has been said about the similarities between Superman and Jesus Christ. Both are not "of this world"; were sent by their "father" on a mission to earth; possess "super" powers; etc.

In the recent film Superman left this world and had a "second coming", thus he returns and he finds the world in much worse shape than when he left. The story line poses this interesting and provocative question: "Does the world need a savior?"

Everyone has problems and needs. If God is loving, benevolent, powerful and desires to save us from our fallen, broken ways (sin), then why wouldn't someone admit, "I need a savior and I believe that Jesus Christ is the savior"?

In the movie's story line Lois Lane is hurt by Superman's departure. He never said "good-bye". Therefore she writes an award winning story, "Why The World Doesn't Need Superman." She also moves into an unmarried relationship and has a child.

Could Lois represent the "wounding" that many feel that "if there is a God where did He go" and "who needs Him anyway"?