Saturday, September 30, 2006

Veggie Tales More Shocking Than Madonna?

Writer Terry Mattingly asks, "If you were a television executive, which program do you think would offend the most viewers across America?

"The first is a children's show featuring digital vegetables that sing and dance and tell silly parables. Each episode ends with a Bible verse and a witty tomato's reminder that 'God made you special and he loves you very much!'

"The second is a prime-time special in which Madonna sings her enigmatic ballad 'Live to Tell' while hanging on a disco-mirror crucifix and wearing a crown of thorns."

If you decided that it's the vegetables that are too hot to handle, then you're on the save wavelength as NBC.

Actually both shows got the green light but the veggies had to do some significant editing. The editing "rule of thumb" is that the veggies can tell what God did in the past but they can't suggest that God can do it in the present.

For example, in one script about Samson, Larry the Cucumber is convinced Samson must have gotten his extraordinary strength from his hairbrush. No, replies Bob the Tomato, the Bible says that Samson's strength came from God.

That line was okay. The next line where Bob says, "And God can give us strength too," had to be stricken by order of NBC execs.

Got it? Claiming that God can do something in your life today is offensive and not suitable programming.

Dear Reader, I'm not complaining. I'm just pointing out that there are powerful people in high places that are committed to preventing you and others from hearing the full story about God's presence and God's activity in this world. That's worth a moment of your reflection.

Friday, September 29, 2006

Embezzling Priests & The Nature of Sin

Thursday the news services carried the story of two priests in Delray Beach, Florida who allegedly embezzled $8.6 million in offerings and gifts made to their parish over several years. Specifics on how the money has been spent or where the remaining amounts are have not been determined but apparently the two priests have taken some trips and gambled a good bit of it away. It should be noted that the attorney for the priests claims that the money is more like $325,000 rather than millions. The seizure of funds began in 2001.

The actual amount of money stolen is important but my point of reflection focuses on the act, not the amount. How can two “holy men” do this? I’m not concluding that these two priests are already guilty. I’ll let the courts do that. But today’s news also carries the story from the West coast of a pending legal situation concerning a priest who allegedly molested boys and young men. I also don’t cast my reflection upon Catholic priests only. There are plenty of stories about protestant clergy.

How can those entrusted with the spiritual care of people and given stewardship over resources abuse that trust? This isn’t a case of someone “slipping” and falling once and repenting and getting back up. All of us do things we know are wrong and that most of the time we don’t want to do. Regular confession, repentance and forgiveness are the means of getting back on the right track.

But what I’m highlighting today is long-term, systemic sin, even while continuing to carry out ministerial duties of prayers, mass, communion, blessings, etc. How does that happen?

Long-term, systemic sin (sin habits) happens to all of us. You have “pet” sins and I have sins that tug at me to repeat them over and again. Maybe our sins don’t get into millions of dollars or make newspaper headlines, but our sins grieve God and leave us separated from God no matter how “insignificant” we deem them to be.

Sin habits and even addictions happen when we don’t immediately repent from a sinful act. For the priests, this would have meant that the first time they embezzled in 2001, God no doubt convicted them of this wrong and stirred them to repent (i.e.: stop, turn around and go a different direction). If they had chosen to repent there would have been some immediate consequences but they would also have been set free from the sin becoming a “master” that had power over their lives.

Every time they were convicted in their hearts and failed to repent, their hearts hardened. The human heart is capable of being so hard and our thinking can be so double-minded, we can literally perform ministry while stealing millions.

I share all of that to say this--Guard your Heart. The scary thing about the priest’s story is that it can and does happen to all of us. Again, just because you don’t make the headlines doesn’t diminish the importance of having a clean heart before God.

An unchecked lusting heart will lead to emotional or physical affairs. An unchecked greedy heart will lead to theft. An unchecked selfish heart will lead to a narcissistic, self-centered life. I could go on. Guard your heart.

If you are unclear about how to guard your heart, get involved in a church and a small group of trusted Christians that are all committed to “heart care”.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Dave Dravecky & Doing Life Over

Do you remember the Dave Dravecky story? A young left-handed pitcher for the San Francisco Giants in the late 1980’s, Dravecky showed great promise as a major league player until it was discovered that he had cancer in his pitching arm. Dravecky had an operation that removed the cancer. He went through grueling rehabilitation and re-entered the major leagues with an inspirational performance that earned him standing ovations.

Life and baseball looked exciting and promising again, and, Dave had more positive influence in the lives of young and old than ever before because of his courageous comeback. Then, the cancer returned and it was determined that the pitching arm had to be amputated! There are books and videos that tell the story and it would be worth your time and money. Check out his web site.

Last week my son got to hear Dravecky speak. I asked, “How was it? Did he say anything that stood out to you?” Justin replied, “Dad, he said that if he had his life to live over again he would want it to happen exactly the same way. He said that going through the cancer experience was the best thing that ever happened to him.”

Does that surprise you? It doesn’t me. I’ve heard dozens of people of faith through the years say similar things. Their conclusions are the same. God worked so powerfully in their lives and changed them so thoroughly that they would significantly be less than the person they’ve become had they not walked with God through hardship.

I think that is similar to what the Apostle Paul had experienced and thus he confessed, “I boast in my weaknesses so that Christ’s power may rest on me…I delight in my weaknesses…For when I am weak, then I am strong.”

Sunday, September 24, 2006

$200 Million Powerball Winner & Heaven

At this writing it has been determined that one person selected the correct numbers in Iowa’s Powerball but he or she has yet to come forward to claim winnings of $200 million (actually about $140 million after taxes).

Wow! Can you imagine? One day you go to work for an average or below average salary and the next day you’re a multi-millionaire. In my mind the only thing that could be more stunning is to discover that you had the winning numbers after the time allotted to collect the prize and therefore you forfeited the windfall.

Do you feel the pain of the above scenario? Regretfully such a thing happens daily with respect to life’s greatest “jackpot”; the gift of knowing God and going to heaven some day when you die.

God has already said that He is not willing that any should perish without having eternal life. Therefore He pursues and woos you, others and me in order to give us life’s greatest gain. Yet many of us ignore God’s gift like a Powerball winner ignoring the announced winning numbers. The day that the “could-be-winners” discover their loss will be so awful that there is only one word to describe it: Hell.

Friday, September 22, 2006

What Do Tiger Woods & Roger Federer Have In Common?

Tiger Woods attended the recent US Open tennis championship and was spotted in the stands watching Roger Federer play. Did Tiger just happen to be in town, snag a hard-to-come-by ticket and enjoy a little tennis? Hardly. Tiger came just for the purpose of watching and later meeting with Federer. Why?

According to USA Today Tiger was with Federer because champions are attracted to each other. The article is the first in a series that looks at champions in baseball, football, basketball, NASCAR and more. Writer Erik Brady contends that men and women that are champions at such a high level are like “soul mates, magnetically attracted by mutual eminence.”

After the match Tiger and Roger spent significant time together connecting about life and about competition. Brady contends that only a few people on the planet know what it is to be the best of the best.

Before I finished the article I was in agreement with Brady’s premise. Recently I had the opportunity to spend three days at a nationally known training center for Christian missionaries. This center trains thousands of missionaries from all over America. I was privileged to have conversations with several men and women, some of whom were in their 20’s and others in their 60’s and all ages in between. Within minutes of each conversation I felt a tremendous connection.

I’ve been on mission serving God for several years and though I am not engaged internationally there is a lot of common experience with these missionaries so that my heart was constantly stirred as I heard stories about where each was going and what each would be doing. As with Brady I’ll also call it being “soul mates.”

We have chosen to love God and love a group of people with all our heart. We have chosen to sacrifice and pour out our lives to bless, encourage, resource, befriend, counsel, console, grieve, celebrate and in general just walk with people in the name of Christ.

If your mental picture of ministry is narrow-minded, know-it-all, condescending people that you wouldn’t want to hang out with, please think again. I’ve met those kinds of people and I don’t want to hang out with them either. The hundreds of “soul mates” that I know are some of the kindest, most generous, caring and sensitive people you’ll ever meet. Some of these “soulish” kinds of people can probably be found in a church that is near you. This Sunday might be a strategic time for you to check it out.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Rick Santorum & Bob Casey Talk About Faith

Tuesday was an election day for primaries and other issues in many states. In Pennsylvania incumbent Senator Rick Santorum (R) and challenger Bob Casey (D) are both openly talking about their faith during their campaigns. Both are Catholics and social conservatives. Both address Catholic and Evangelical groups. Sound okay to you?

For several years it has been increasingly taboo for Christians to talk about their faith in public much less in the political arena. The vocal social opinion has been that religion should be a private matter and not imposed on others in public discourse. Why?

I’ve had people share with me about their non-Christian convictions and I’ve never been offended or even uncomfortable. In fact, I’m often interested in what someone has to say because I’m curious about why people hold to non-Christian beliefs.

I agree that no one wants to be put down, condescended, or “sold” someone else’s convictions. I’m sure that kind of thing happens. I just never really encounter it. If someone becomes a little too enthusiastic with me in sharing his or her beliefs I don’t mind coming back with, “I can tell that means a lot to you. My faith means a lot to me also.”

If we are in fact moving in a direction of more freedom to discuss or share something of our faith I rejoice. Will there be those who posture themselves religiously or overstate their practice? Of course. Those people will overstate their concerns or involvements in other arenas also. But if we also have the opportunity to hear from authentic people like Santorum and Casey I say, “Bring it on.”

Monday, September 18, 2006

Life Has A Way of Crashing In On Us

Mary and Bill Hornbrook live in a relatively quiet and uneventful mobile home community for seniors in Auburn, Washington. Mary has some hanging baskets on her porch that needed some trimming. As she was headed toward the porch she was startled by a loud crash. At first she wondered if it were an earthquake. Bill came running into the room wondering if there had been a car accident in front of their home.

When they went out on the front porch to see what had happened the Hornbrook’s discovered that a piece of an airplane had fallen from the sky and crashed through their front porch roof according to the Federal Aviation Administration officials who came and took it away.

Mary was shaken for quite some time not only because of what happened but also because of what might have happened. If Mary had moved a little quicker and been trimming her baskets two minutes earlier she would have been standing in the exact spot where the airplane part came crashing in. In the “blink of an eye” Mary’s life as she knows it would have been over and she would have been ushered into the life to come.

In the Epistle of James we’re told that life is like a vapor or mist. Our lives are only here in this world briefly and it’s over. The Apostle Paul tells us that Jesus Christ is going to return to our world (a second coming) and when He does life, as we know it will be “changed in an instant, as quickly as the blinking of an eye.”

Whether we experience our own death or the return of the Christ, life can instantly be over and we enter the afterlife and world to come. The question is, “Am I prepared?”

I don’t know if Mary was and is ready to meet her Maker. I know that I am. Maybe you have some skepticism about this matter. That’s fine. My friendly encouragement to you today is, “What if I’m right? Don’t you owe it to yourself to find out?”

Perhaps you’d like to dialogue with me or with some friend that you respect who is a Christian. Maybe you’d like to read a book. Why not take some step to begin to get answers to what I think are life’s most important questions. Do it before life comes crashing in on you.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Susan Kuhnhausen Strangled an Intruder, a Hit Man

Susan Kuhnhausen is a 51-year-old nurse in Portland, Oregon. She returned home from work September 6, turned off her home alarm and stepped inside to find Dalton Haffey racing toward her with a hammer in hand. He landed a couple of blows on Susan but she began to fight back and she wrestled the hammer away from him and then strangled him to death.

Police are not charging her with any crime concluding that Susan Kuhnhausen acted in self-defense. In the immediate aftermath the police investigation was going in the direction of an interrupted burglary that turned violent. However, when investigators looked further into Haffey’s background they discovered that he not only had prior arrests for assault and attempted murder, but that he also worked for Michael Kuhnhausen, Susan’s estranged husband from whom she was in the process of divorce.

Now there is evidence that Michael was upset over the divorce and hired Haffey to kill Susan. Michael Kuhnhausen also bought a gun just prior to this incident and left an apparent suicide note. Allegedly Michael was going to have Susan killed and then take his own life.

This story is but one more example of the axiom, “Truth is stranger than fiction.”

My point of reflection revolves around Susan’s recovery from this ordeal and God. It’s significant enough to deal with the sense of invasion that happens when someone breaks into your home. Add to that attempted murder, then killing a man with your own bare hands as a matter of defense. Then, to top it off, your husband has orchestrated this episode. This trauma is off the charts in terms of recovery.

Susan is an ER nurse and acquainted with trauma and bizarre realities. But, there is a world of difference in maintaining a professional objectivity in your job and coming to grips with multiple personal violations.

I couldn’t find in any of the stories posted if Susan is a follower of Christ. I pray that she is or will be. Her inner life has been ravaged and though medicine and psychology can offer many kinds of help, this life needs a touch from a loving God. Don’t misunderstand; that loving touch isn’t like a magic wand that suddenly and immediately brings transformation. Rather that touch leads to another and another that in process brings healing and wholeness.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

T-Ball Coach Mark Downs Has Lost His Moorings

Mark R. Downs, 29, of Dunbar, Pennsylvania, coaches 8 and 9-year-old boys in baseball. Near the season’s end there is a tournament, which is typical for most youth leagues. And also typical is a rule that says every player on the team must play some number of innings. That of course attempts to keep coaches from being so competitive that they only play their best 9 players and every other kid then sits on the bench for the whole tournament. Most parents have faced the ordeal of encouraging their child when they don’t get much if any playing time.

Downs apparently was overtaken by his competitiveness because he offered one of his players $25 to hurt a 9-year-old mentally disabled teammate. Obviously if the child was hurt then Downs would not have to put him in the game.

Eight-year-old Keith Reese testified in court that Downs made him the offer before a June 27 playoff game. “He told me if I would hit Harry (Bowers) in the face he would pay me $25,” Keith said.

Today a jury convicted Downs of two misdemeanor charges and acquitted him of the more serious charge, a felony count of criminal solicitation to commit aggravated assault.

Most of the commentary (journalistic and blogger) about Downs just says he is a jerk. Maybe. More precisely I contend that Downs has lost his moorings.

When a ship is moored or tied to a dock, it is prevented from drifting away and being lost. God creates people with unique and purposeful design. People have tremendous capacity to enrich and bless. When we become “untied” or disconnected from God, when we lose our moorings, then we are left to the ravages of the seas and we become broken and fallen. Downs squandered a strategic place in the lives of boys to enrich and bless their lives.

I pray for Downs to experience a “wake-up” call and use this episode to turn his life around. He is the father of two daughters. I also pray for the boys that the trauma of testifying in court and the sad memory of a spoiled summer can be used for positive life lessons. All would benefit greatly by being connected to the Creator.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Chicago Bears, Free Furniture & God's Blessings

Congratulations to the Chicago Bears for their shutout of the Green Bay Packers on September 10. Congratulations to all those who received free furniture because of the 26-0 win. According to the Chicago Tribune 206 families received free furniture from purchases made over the Labor Day weekend because Randy Gonigam, furniture store owner and Bears fan, had promised that all purchases over the holiday weekend would be free if the Bears shutout the Packers.

Gonigam was both frustrated with the Bears quality of play and he wanted to sell furniture. He thought his combined interests would make for an interesting promotion and he also thought it was a safe bet since the Green Bay Packers had not been shut out in 16 years. Now Gonigam is writing off $300,000 worth of furniture!

For one woman this meant her $5,000 master bedroom set was free. For one man it meant his $1,500 book shelving was free. And so the giveaway went. One customer commented, “This is the luckiest day of my life.”

In this story everyone is a winner (except for the Packers). The Bears win, the furniture customers win and even Gonigam wins. He received a lot of free publicity and calls from CNN and MSNBC about the promotion not to mention he took out an insurance policy just in case the Bears pulled off the shutout.

What would it take for you to have the “luckiest day of your life?”

Everyday Christ followers personally enjoy friendship with the Creator of the Universe. Everyday we see God bring healing to broken hearts, hope to despair, guidance to the confused and companionship to the lonely. Yes, God is the Almighty who holds our world together and He is the Judge that we all answer to, but He is also our Father, our Savior and the Lover of our Soul. The day you begin a relationship with God is the luckiest day of your life.

Monday, September 11, 2006

US Open Champion Maria Sharapova & Obeying God

This past Saturday Russian tennis star Maria Sharapova won her second grand slam tournament when she beat Justine Henin-Hardenne in the US Open. If you are a tennis fan you no doubt enjoyed seeing some of the best tennis players in the world as well as the farewell appearance of Andre Agassi.

If you’re not a tennis fan you may not be aware that there is a rule that no coaching can take place during tournament play. Even though your coach may be seated in the stands a few feet from the court there is not supposed to be any verbal or non-verbal communication taking place.

Apparently during tournament play Sharapova’s father and her hitting partner were at one point holding up a banana and holding up four fingers. In a post tournament interview Sharapova was asked to explain the hand signals she was receiving from her support people.

Sharapova explained that during the match she gets so focused on tennis that she forgets to drink water and hydrate herself. The hand signals were meant to simply be a reminder.

With that explanation Sharapova indicated to reporters that she didn’t want to talk about the subject of unfair communication any more. She said, “Right now I’m sitting here as a US Open champion, and the last thing I think people need to worry about is a banana.”

I like Maria Sharapova and I enjoy watching her play tennis. In the matches that I’ve watched she has always conducted herself with class and professionalism. And, I don’t like to nit pick. However, it doesn’t matter if you’re being reminded to hydrate or if you’re being reminded to hold your racket a certain way for a drop shot, it is still receiving coaching during the tournament.

Why am I putting that little act under the microscope? The receiving of illegal coaching and the demand that it be dismissed as a matter of interest is a reflection of how our world thinks today. Many who believe that there is a God and that someday we will stand before Him to give an account of how we spent our lives, also believe that they are going to be able to insist that God not look at certain behaviors. Some live like they are going to be able to say, “I’m a US Open champion (good, charitable, fair, hard-working, kind person) and the last thing I think You ought to worry about is a banana (cheating, lying, selfishness, etc.).”

On that day you won’t be able to control the press or your image. God will be in control. And, the only hope you’ll have is that you already received forgiveness for sin from Jesus Christ and that you followed Him as Your Lord. Friend, that’s worth reflecting on.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

To Combat 'NFL Exodus,' Church Subsidizes TiVos

Many churches in the fall have a common experience. Men begin staying home from worship gatherings to watch Sunday NFL games. One church thinks that they have discovered the answer to this dilemma. Red Oak Nazarene Church in Cleveland, Ohio bought a stack of TiVo players, placed them in the foyer of the church and offered to subsidize TiVo subscriptions to any member in good standing. Seventy-five families have availed themselves of the offer thus far.

The church now prints the Brown’s schedule in the Sunday bulletin and also offers classes on how to program a TiVo DVR.

Sound crazy? It is. This story appeared on a satirical web site called LarkNews. However, it raises a great point for reflection.

How much should a church coax, encourage, invite or entice people to gather on Sundays to worship God?

After all, we’re talking about the Creator of life, the Redeemer of our souls, and the Judge we face at life’s end. If God is who He claims to be (see the Bible) then it only makes sense that worshiping (honoring, exalting, yielding to) God would be our first priority. Forget football, boating on the lake, sleeping in late, working in the yard or drinking coffee and reading the paper. The King of kings and Lord of lords is looking for our arrival and expecting our celebration of His Presence in our midst.

On the other hand, if God is imagination, mythology, or superstition, then I would be wasting my time gathering with other people to sing songs and hear a speaker drone on about nothing.

But, which is it? That is THE question.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Remembering 9-11 & Asking the "Safe" Question

As we approach the 5th anniversary of the terrorist attack of September 11, 2001, journalists and politicians will bring many things to our attention and remembrance. Amid all the talk will be one question that will be asked and discussed over and again; “Are we safer today than 5 years ago?”

There will be posturing and pontificating, bloviating and bellowing about how we are/are not more safe. Anecdotes, statistics and expert opinions will be in abundant supply. I do care about America being safer. I do think that we’ve made progress in securing our nation. I do think there is much more to be done. I want our government and citizenry to do everything reasonable to keep our country as free and secure as possible.

That being said, we can never be totally safe. Right? Even if we secure the borders and keep Al-Qaeda at bay, there will always be a “Timothy McVeigh” within that will strike senselessly and ruthlessly. There has always been and there will always be cruelty and an assault on innocence.

Because of this reality, ancient Hebrews and Christians refused to trust in “horses and chariots” or in alliances with powerful nations. Rather, they placed their trust in the Lord. Did trusting God mean that a “believer” never suffered at the hands of evil? No. There are many accounts in history and contemporary news of robberies, rapes and ravages. But the difference is that the “believer” had a confidence and hope that God would either be their fortress and rock (safety) or, if God allowed something horrific to happen God would somehow make that work for a good, redemptive purpose.

In Hebrews 11:35-39 there is an account of many faithful believers that suffered terrible things. Their testimony is that it is more important to know the Deliverer than it is to be delivered. That testimony is worth reflecting on.

As I close today’s post let me encourage you to take a moment right now and say a prayer for surviving family members and friends of the 9-11 victims. They deal and cope every day with loss that we only think about occasionally.

Monday, September 04, 2006

"Crocodile Hunter" Steve Irwin Killed

Steve Irwin, aka the Crocodile Hunter, was tragically killed today while filming off the Great Barrier Reef. Irwin is a television personality and conservationist known for handling crocs, snakes and other deadly kinds of animals. His latest project was producing a series called “Ocean’s Deadliest”. While filming today Irwin got too close to a stingray and was killed at age 44.

Irwin’s colleague, John Stainton, said that Irwin “came on top of the stingray and the stingray’s barb went up and into his chest and put a hole into his heart.” Apparently stingrays have a serrated, toxin-loaded barb, or spine, on the top of their tail. The barb, which can be up to 10 inches long, flexes if a ray is frightened. Stings usually occur to people when they step on or swim too close to a ray and can be very painful but rarely fatal, said University of Queensland marine neuroscientist Shaun Collin.

Collin said he suspected that Irwin died because the barb pierced under his ribcage and directly into his heart.

I only have sympathy and grief for the Irwin family and all of his fans and I have no criticism for the work he did and the risks he took. However, the first thought I had when I saw the news of his death was the old proverb, “If you play with snakes you will get bit.” Another similar proverb is, “If you play with fire you will get burned.”

In my world I have meaningful relationships in multiple arenas. In every arena I have friends that are playing with “snakes” and “fire”. Like Irwin, my friends have children and other loved ones that are or will be impacted as they get bit and burned. Every week I offer friendship and counsel to those who have lost their marriages, their children, their careers, their health, and the potential of their futures because their hearts were “pierced” by pride, greed, lust, envy, gluttony, wrath, or sloth.

Yes, I just named the so-called 7 Deadly Sins. If I were you I would take this post reading as a divine encounter. God has sought to lovingly tap you on the shoulder, to lead you away from deadly games, and to usher you in to a life marked by true abundance.

Friday, September 01, 2006

Life Is Fragile. Do You "Handle With Care?"

Betty Simon was a 46-year-old mother of two grown sons. She worked at a Jack-In-The-Box in North Seattle. All she was doing was waiting at a bus stop to catch a ride home and now she is dead.

Apparently Simon was standing at the bus stop just minding her own business when a 53 year old Seattle man rode his bicycle past her and accidentally bumped her. Simon lost her balance from the bump and fell off the curb and under a bus. She died instantly.

The bus driver, who apparently had no fault in the accident whatsoever, was taken to the hospital for evaluation.

The Bible tells us that our lives are like a mist, like a vapor. Life is very temporal and very fragile. My post from August 31 told the story of a 43 year old father of 4 who was tragically killed while driving down I-5 because debris flew off the back of a truck in front of him.

Friend, it raises the question, “How prepared are you for your life to be over or changed forever?” The bus driver was just doing her job. Though she had no fault she will have to deal with running over and killing a mother of 2 for the rest of her life. The bicyclist will have to deal with bumping into Simon for the rest of his life. Simon now stands before the living God to give an account of how she spent her one and only life.

I don’t have the personal strength, courage or wisdom to deal with everything that happens to me in a lifetime. I need God as my Rock as well as my Companion in order to do life’s journey well.