Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Oprah Winfrey Gives Away $1,000 Debit Cards

On Monday’s Oprah Winfrey show, the hostess had another big giveaway. If you’ve missed it in the past she has given away to her audience books, clothing, trips, a variety of foods and treats and even cars. This time Oprah gave each of the 300 guests in the studio audience a debit card worth $1,000.

However, there was a stipulation to receiving the gift. Each recipient had to agree to give away the $1,000. The audience was told that they could give away the entire $1,000 to one needy person or charity, or they could divide it up and give it to multiple people or charities. The choice was theirs. Each recipient was also given a DVD recorder so that they could capture what happens with their giveaway. Some of the clips will be used on later Oprah broadcasts.

Oprah said this was her favorite giveaway of all time. Why? Because she loves the feeling she gets when she gives something away. In her mind the gift was not the $1,000 debit card. The gift was the opportunity to know the feeling of bringing happiness to someone else.

What do you think? If you received a $1,000 from Oprah would you then want her to tell you how it must be used? I wonder if any of the recipients were disappointed? I wonder if any of the recipients will find a way to keep most or all of the money for themselves?

Why would I think such lowly thoughts? Because you and I regularly receive blessings and gifts from God that far exceed $1,000, and God retains the privilege of telling us what to do with it. A lot of the times we get to keep and enjoy His blessings. A lot of the time God directs us to give away His blessings. When we choose to pass on God’s blessings to others, theoretically we get to share in the experiential joy of blessing others.

But, many of us choose to keep God’s blessings to ourselves. We choose to ignore the needs of others or rationalize our own need for keeping all or most of the things God entrusts to us.

Here’s a prayer that God will always answer; “Lord what would You like for me to do with your blessings in my life?” Pray that prayer today and have some fun!

Friday, October 27, 2006

"Ferris Bueller's Day Off" Is More Difficult Now

It would be much more difficult for Ferris Bueller to have a day off now than it was in 1986 when the movie, “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off”, was made. Do you remember how high school student Ferris tricked his parents into believing that he was sick, then he went out for a fun day of driving around Chicago with his buddy and his girlfriend?

According to USA Today it would be nearly impossible for Ferris to pull that off in 2006. Many cities have passed daytime curfew laws, so the cops would stop Ferris if he were on the street during school hours. New provisional driver’s licenses forbid teenagers from having other teenagers in their cars. Mom and Dad now have a global-positioning device installed in Ferris’ cell phone so that they can pinpoint his location on a map on their own cell phones.

Ferris also used the occasion of his day off to hack into the school’s computer to change his grades and attendance record. Now Mom and Dad can examine all of Ferris’ typing with software that let’s them monitor the home PC from their monitor at work.

Yes, it’s a new day. If you’re a parent you understand the desire to have more control over your child’s whereabouts. If you’re a teenager you probably don’t have much appreciation for the new technology and legislation.

No matter your age or generation the reality is that your Heavenly Father has always been monitoring your location, behavior and decisions 24/7. You’ve never even had a thought that God didn’t know about. Cheating, gossip, lust, illicit acts, unforgiveness, punitive behavior, stinginess, hate, prejudice, and much more have been seen and acknowledged by God. The human heart is desperately wicked and fallen.

Did you just do a double take on my use of the word “wicked”? In our relativistic world we’ve relegated wickedness to mass murderers and terrorists. But, the Bible makes it clear that we don’t compare our lives to others in this world. We compare our lives to the life of Jesus.

What we all deserve is judgment and condemnation from God. But, the grace and mercy of God provides forgiveness, redemption and transformation. That’s worth going to church and celebrating this Sunday!

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Here Comes "Christmas Creep"

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas…and we haven’t even had Halloween yet. Have you noticed? Retailers are already stocking their shelves with Christmas items while it is still October.

Wal-Mart, Target and Penney’s are hoping to get consumers into a shopping frame of mind two months early.

It’s a phenomenon called “Christmas creep,” according to the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania. William Cody of the Wharton School said, “The creep has been going on. Every year retailers hope that coming out early is going to reduce the amount of promotions. They’d rather people buy at full price.” The strategy is to capture more sales by letting people shop early.

For those who have forgotten, “Christ”mas is about the coming of Christ into our world. Every year the reality of Christmas and its rightful celebration is further buried and overshadowed, and for many even lost because of the assault of consumerism.

The retail industry has become so dependent on Christmas sales that for many it makes up 40% of their annual profits. This assault will only continue in the years to come.

For those that want to have a meaningful experience of God in the month of December let me encourage you now to make strategic decisions with your calendar, your checkbook and your heart. Make and live a plan to not get crazy during the holidays but to enjoy God’s presence.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Dreams, Fears & Darkness

Saturday I attended the memorial service for a long time friend. Buddy had been a Christian for many years and served God faithfully. You always knew when Buddy walked into the room. He has to be one of the top 5 extroverted people that I personally know. Energetic. Visionary. Funny. Encouraging.

During his service an anonymous quote by one of the speakers has arrested my thoughts for the past 24 hours.

Most people have their dreams reduced to the size of their fears.
Then their vision is tunnel, and most of what they see is darkness.

Do you have dreams? Has God given you a vision? Are you pursuing a destiny from above?

Buddy always did. I heard him say many times, “The best is yet to be.”

I pray today for you, my blogging friend, that your dreams are liberated from your fears and that your vision is filled with light. Believe it…the best is yet to be.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Mention of Prayer "Enrages" Professor

At Olivet College in Michigan a student who is a Christian says he was punished by one of his professors for making a reference to God in the classroom. According to Agape Press, freshman Jeremiah Bannister claims he was the target of anti-Christian bigotry and grade retaliation in his “Writing and Rhetoric” class.

Apparently Bannister was asked by Professor Austin Jackson, a Sunni-Muslim, to voice his personal opinion about what African-Americans can do to overcome historical prejudice. Bannister opposed affirmative action and slavery reparations and suggested that prayer would be one means of dealing with prejudice.

That suggestion allegedly angered Professor Jackson. Bannister claims that the professor said, “that invoking God in class was unacceptable; that it was anti-intellectual, that it was belligerent, and [that] it was completely unacceptable in his classroom. And he actually docked us 10 points from our grade because I invoked God in my opinion of what could be done.”

According to Bannister he was instructed to never mention anything about God or Jesus in the classroom.

Ironically Olivet College was founded in 1844 by Father John Shiperd with Christian values. According to the college’s web site Olivet redefined its direction in the early 1990’s.

The school is investigating the matter and my purpose is not to be critical of students, administration or faculty. My reflection is on the alleged statement of the professor. Whether he actually said such things or not, other academics certainly have. Are Christian theology, ideology and values “anti-intellectual”?

I’ve been in places and gatherings where “Christianity” was very “anti-intellectual” and looked at academia with disdain. To be fair, academia has often been anti-faith. But, the rest of the story is that nowhere does Jesus (the founder of Christianity) ask men and women to “check their brain at the door”. In fact just the opposite is true.

Jesus exhorted that if one is going to know God and follow God well one must “love the Lord your God with all your heart (feelings) and mind (thinking)…”

Monday, October 16, 2006

Dying Is Living

Last week I was listing to one of my favorite groups, MercyMe. Their latest CD,"Coming Up To Breathe", has a song at the very end called, "I Would Die For You". I liked a lot of the songs but this one arrested me.

I pulled the sleeve out of the CD cover and began reading the lyrics. They were exactly what I was preparing to say in a talk that I was giving yesterday in my church. Below the lyrics there was a paragraph that mentioned that the song had been written about a guy named BJ Higgins. Check out his web site here.

I read about 6 months of blog posts that not only detailed how BJ lived a full and abundant life for God but also how he died with peace and grace and a powerful sense of God's presence. BJ was just 15 years old but even at such a young age he discovered what was most important in life and he lived well.

The Bible says that the secret to living the life God plans for you is a paradox. In order to live you must die. Check out the link to my talk, "Dying Is Living" if you want to hear more.

Friday, October 13, 2006

A Lesson From The Torn Down Amish School

Thursday the Amish in Nickel Mines, PA had their one room schoolhouse demolished before dawn. The site where a gunman fatally shot 5 girls and wounded 5 others is now a bare patch of earth. The Amish plan to leave a quiet pasture where the schoolhouse stood.

Hopefully our nation has already learned important lessons from watching the Amish respond to this nightmarish tragedy. The Amish have modeled forgiveness having already declared their concern for the gunman’s family. They have modeled grief as they have clung to their faith and to their community for strength and courage. Anyone that learns how to forgive well and grieve life’s losses well is living an extraordinary life.

Now the Amish are demonstrating how to move forward from tragedy. Forgiveness and grief are not over. They will continue to experience both for some time. But, they will no longer view the schoolhouse. There will not be a structure to remind them of their pain. It’s gone.

In the Bible, Ecclesiastes 3:3 tells us that there is a time for everything; “A time to tear down and a time to rebuild.” There are times when our experience is so far reaching and so life penetrating that moving on has to be more radical than a patch work job on the walls and a fresh coat of paint. There are times to tear down and remove.

Some of us have “rooms” of resentment in various places of our heart. We sometimes go there and relive past trauma and experience pain, anger and raw emotion. And, as long as that “room” remains we return to it over and again. It’s like playing a videotape of someone wronging us, then rewinding it and playing it again and again.

That “room” needs to be torn down and we need to move on. This is a work that God does in us and we exercise faith in order to cooperate with His work. By faith we receive power to forgive, grieve, to tear down and to rebuild.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Do We Need More Churches?

In answer to the question, “Do we need more churches?” many cities are saying an emphatic “No”. According to USA Today churches are being turned away by cities and towns that hope to enliven a fading downtown or boost their tax base.

“There's more interest than ever in attempting to exclude churches and other houses of worship,” says Kevin Hasson, president of the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty. “They say they don't want churches there. They want something that generates tax revenue.”

Kenly, NC; Stafford, Texas; Miramar, Florida; Titusville, PA; are some of the cities listed that have concluded that more churches would be detrimental to their communities. It’s a case of choosing economics over faith.

Hey, I understand the argument and I’m sympathetic to cities that are trying to provide services to their citizenry in the face of escalating costs. And, I’ve seen many a church that never made much of a contribution to the well being of a community.

Let me hasten to say that I love the church, I’ve committed my life to serving God through His church and I believe that the church is the hope of the world. I really do. The church is entrusted with the gospel, the message from heaven on how to have eternal life. The church is the steward of the ministry of changing lives.

However, many churches have taken the notion of “don’t let the world corrupt you” to mean, “don’t be involved in your community.” As a result churches often act like leeches. Once you get involved in a church then you are no longer a contributing participant in the community.

About 3 years ago someone asked me the question, “If your church no longer existed would the city care that you were gone? Would the city even know that you were gone?” Great question.

From that point it became clear to me that God not only wanted us in the business of “changed lives” but He also wanted us in the business of “blessing the city”.

“When the righteous prosper, the city rejoices…” (Proverbs 11:10)

I want our church to be so involved in feeding the hungry, sheltering the homeless, aiding those in recovery, counseling those who are confused, encouraging those who are losing hope and equipping others with basic life skills, that if our church should disappear the city would greatly mourn our absence.

Friday, October 06, 2006

What's Going On With Recent School Shootings?

This past week we were shocked and saddened to learn of a 32-year-old milk truck driver and father of 3 entering an Amish school in Pennsylvania and killing little girls execution style. This follows the tragic account from the week before of a 53-year-old man entering a school in Colorado, molesting several girls and then killing one. In both cases the men killed themselves afterward.

According to ABC News there have been 25 shootings at or near schools across our nation since the beginning of school two months ago! What’s going on?

Some complain that schools are not secure enough and need more procedures and personnel to ensure safety. Some continue the debate about gun control. Some point the finger at the media for giving “15 minutes of fame” to the perpetrators. Maybe there’s some truth to these positions and others that I didn’t mention. We probably should see some change in the above-mentioned areas.

However, I’m not hearing in the national conversation what I consider to be at the top of the list for the cause and effect of these tragic and horrific shootings. EVIL.

The most recent case involving Charles Roberts is the most illustrative of my point. Here is an average guy with a regular job, married with three children of his own. Without exception, everyone that knew Roberts said that they could never in their wildest dreams imagine him shooting and killing the little Amish girls. And yet, with full premeditation he enters the school with several guns, a lot of ammunition, lumber to block the door, a change of clothes and K-Y jelly, which one can only speculate was for sexual assault purposes.

Was Roberts depressed, upset, despondent, or hopeless? People get like that all the time but if they start “losing it” they are usually self-destructive at that point. They get drunk, take drugs, or even attempt suicide. Yet, Roberts carefully orchestrates and carries out a plan that assaults innocence, brings him fame and ends his life and pain. Now Roberts' invisible and seemingly insignificant life is known to all Americans and will live on in infamy.

This is the way evil works. The Bible teaches that there is a real person of evil called Satan or the Devil. He really has power. He really does influence the thinking and feelings of people.

Yes, make schools safer. Let’s work to have better control over who gets the privilege to use a gun. Let’s quit sensationalizing and making famous disturbed people who do awful things. But, let’s not forget to address the pervasive problem of evil. The ONLY hope we have in fighting against evil is the heart transforming work of God. ONLY God can change our evil and broken hearts and make them good and whole.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Is Congressman Mark Foley a Pedophile?

Mark Foley, a Republican Congressman who represented parts of Palm Beach County in Florida for 12 years has resigned and entered a rehabilitation program. He has been disgraced by the disclosure that he sent sexually suggestive emails and text messages to male congressional pages. He claimed that at no time was there actual sexual contact with any page. Before Foley entered rehab he also disclosed that he had been sexually abused as a child, he was intoxicated when he sent the inappropriate communications and he is homosexual.

Wow. One week Foley is a multi-term Congressman about to be re-elected and the next week his life is an entire “made for TV mini-series of scandal”.

I am sympathetic and I pray for rehabilitation and healing for Mark Foley. I do hope he is telling the truth that there was never any sexual contact with any page. I’m also prayerful for the pages that received these communications that God would guard their hearts from emotional, psychological and spiritual wounding or damage.

Reflect with me on one of the statements made by Foley’s attorney, David Roth. Speaking on behalf of and in defense of Mark Foley, Roth declared, “Any suggestion that Mark Foley is a pedophile is false.”

That statement raises the question: Is someone a pedophile because they have inappropriate sex with a minor? OR, Does someone have inappropriate sex with a minor because he is a pedophile?

I contend that the Bible makes the case for the latter. Jesus clarified the nature of a sinful heart when He pointed out the Law says, “Do not commit adultery. But I say, anyone who even looks at a woman with lust in his eye has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” (Matthew 5:27-28)

In other words, someone commits adultery because he IS an adulterer in his heart. Foley is a pedophile because he has pedophilia (lust for young males) in his heart.

Let’s bring that home to you and me. What’s in your/my heart? Pride? Greed? Lust? Envy? Gluttony? Wrath? Sloth? The Christ following life is not one that just recovers over and again from fallen behaviors. It is also a life that experiences “heart surgery” where God is allowed to purge and heal our hearts and thereby deliver us from fallen behaviors and outcomes.