Monday, December 14, 2009

Rush Limbaugh: Why Do So Many Dislike Him?

I'm a political conservative - there I said it.

And I'm a political conservative because I'm a conservative, period. The only liberal thing about me (and most other conservatives) is my generosity.  (A recent study and follow up book by Arthur C. Brooks, professor at Syracuse University, entitled Who Really Cares: The Surprising Truth About Compassionate Conservatism proves with hard data that conservative Americans are much more, well, liberal, with their charitible giving than so-called "liberals." And Americans are much more charitable than Europeans, and so much for the stereotypes. But I've already digressed way off topic...)

I'm a political conservative, and I listen to Rush Limbaugh. (And I've read both of his books, The Way Things Ought to Be and See, I Told You So). And I agree with him on a lot of things. Most things. Almost everything, when push comes to shove.

I've noticed, though, that there are some conservatives who would not be willing to make the public confession I just made. And I know other conservatives - some of them conservative clergy like myself - who don't like Rush. I've also got friends and relatives who are conservatives who gladly admit that they don't like Rush.  When these people give a reason why they don't like him (and I like to ask, just to tweak them a bit!), there's one word that they use more than any other in their answers:

They say that Rush Limbaugh is arrogant

They also say he's obnoxious (second most common answer in my unscientific survey - but I think my results are more accurate than any current "scientific" global warming models!). He's in-your-face. He's rude to callers (not really - not until or unless they're rude to him...and never as rude as some other TV and radio personalities I've heard, both on the right and the left).

So I've thought about this...

...this whole "Rush Limbaugh is arrogant"  mantra.  Why do people have this almost knee-jerk response in their dislike for the man? Many of them have seldom or never listened to a single daily three-hour Rush Limbaugh radio program.  I suspect most only know of Limbaugh second hand, from what they've seen/heard said about him in the media, and by now we all should know how today's media edit everything they report for their own desired slant on issues or news.

But there's something else at work here. There's another reason why people say Rush is arrogant. It is this: because Rush speaks with passion to the issues of the day, and he has an opinion about nearly everything...and he believes he is RIGHT. No, I don't mean he believes he's on the right (versus the left); Rush believes and has the conviction that he is speaking THE TRUTH.

And that makes a lot of people today nervous.

Because we live in a culture today that believes it's just fine to have an opinion about things, but it's not politically (or culturally) correct to have the conviction that one's opinions are TRUE (unless of course, those opinions reflect the liberal / politically correct / Hollywood / mainstream media / academic ivory tower mindset that is pushed on us from every direction these days). 

If you have conservative convictions, you are not supposed to believe your convictions are TRUE...they are just your opinions, and you really should keep them to yourself, thank you. Don't impose them on me. Stay out of my personal space (my bedroom, my womb, the internet sites I visit late at night). Many persons who have conservative beliefs and convictions (about what is true) have been pressured by those around them to keep quiet - and even to question whether their convictions are anything more than, at best, personal preference. 

Enter Rush Limbaugh. Loud Rush Limbaugh. Passionate Rush Limbaugh. Rush Limbaugh who is "right 98.6% of the time" (his words on his radio show - occasionally he says he's right as often as 99.2% of the time). He talks about being a "Truth Detector." The "Doctor of Democracy." "Talent on Loan from GOD." And liberals go nuts!

Why? Because their mantra is "no one has a corner on the truth" (except them). There are no absolutes (except that little "absolute" - oops!).

Over his 20 years on The Rush Limbaugh Show, Rush has accomplished something that not only makes liberals crazy, lately it is making them very nervous. He has moved the markers of the public conversation.  Liberals no longer control the conversation in the public square - Rush and other conservative talk show hosts (and news outlets like FOX News) have more listeners than the old (and new) liberal media outlets.  And that is impacting public opinion.

Does Rush speak "the truth?" Well, you can say, "no" all you want, but over 20 million listeners every week are tuning in, most of them agreeing with his views. Again, other conservative shows are also attracting huge numbers of listeners (Sean Hannity, Glen Beck, Laura Ingraham, and others who are more libertarian, like Neal Boortz and Tammy Bruce).

Is anything TRUE? For sure? Does Rush - does any one of us - have the right to say "this is the truth, that is a lie; this is right, that is wrong"?

Well, if we can't say with certainty that some things are true, how can we live our lives and function each day? Is that car silver or red?  Is the sky blue or green? Is this a $5 bill or a $50 bill?

What about much more important things, like defining murder, lying, adultery, stealing, and other vices? What about defining marriage as between one man and one woman? (Certainly those on the left have absolute moral definitions for their "pet sins," like homophobia, obesity, smoking, business profits and year-end bonuses for executives in the private sector)?

We quickly see that everywhere we turn, things must be defined - we must pass judgment - and our judgments are all about moral choices, convictions about right and wrong.

Since I'm a minister, I can't resist taking this blog post in the direction of religion. And even if I were not a minister, I would need to do so, because religion is where many (all?) of our convictions about right and wrong are founded (that includes the liberal left's moral convictions as well - they won't admit it, but they do come to those convictions by faith). 

The Jewish and Christian religions have a great deal to say about right and wrong; there are definitions and judgments of good and evil throughout the Old and New Testament scriptures of these two faiths. The Bible calls some behaviors "sin," period. There's no getting around it.  And we should note that everything defined as "sin" in the Bible is an act that breaks relationships - either between God and human beings or between one person and another (this includes between individuals, or between private persons and the state, etc.). 

Jesus made judgment calls all the time, while still extending love, grace and forgiveness to persons. But he was not shy about calling something "good" or "evil". And he made a profound statement about truth in John 8.31-32:

"If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free."
(emphasis added, English Standard Version)

Jesus said very plainly here that "the truth" can be known (by those who are his true disciples). It can be discerned, practiced, and named.

And Jesus said to those disciples, "the truth will set you free." Our founding fathers would say that this means free from the need for others to govern you, because you are self-governing. Yet we see more and more laws being passed - why?  Because we are a people losing our moral conscience - and therefore our ability to be self-controlled, and self-governing.

"Free" also means free from restrictions on where you can travel, what you can eat, where you can live, what size home you can own, what kind of work you can do...these were all freedoms assumed and enumerated by our founding fathers who wanted to keep an oppressive government out of their lives.

This is the "truth" that Rush "preaches," and it is an understanding of freedom that many Americans have lost because our generation no longer understands these constitutional concepts. Therefore many people easily accept the liberal left's own truth claims, without asking for sources or evidence for why we should listen to them or trust them.

So Rush drives people crazy and brings on their wrath because he, too, has the arrogance to claim to know and speak the truth.

I'm sorry that this bothers some people. I'm sorry if it makes a few folks uncomfortable. I'm sorry if it embarrasses people in polite society when someone says with conviction, "you're wrong."

In today's dark world, we need someone to turn the light back on. Keep talking, Rush!

Stay connected,

Pastor Mike

P.S. Since I brought up generosity at the beginning of this thread, I'll also note that Rush is a generous philanthropist. He holds an annual fundraising telethon called the "EIB Cure-a-Thon" for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. In 2006 the EIB Cure-a-Thon conducted its 16th annual telethon, raising $1.7 million; totaling over $15 million since the first Cure-a-Thon.  In 2008, Rush raised his pledge to $400,000 after someone called in and challenged him to do so.  Rush usually matches a pledge each year made by two anonymous donors, whom he only identifies as two sisters. So ... Rush is another liberal, generous conservative.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Facing The Spirits During Christmas...

Ebenezer Scrooge was confronted about his miserly, self-centered life by the Christmas Spirits.

And in the 2000 movie release, The Family Man, Jack Campbell (Nicolas Cage) is likewise confronted by - whom? an angel? the Spirit of Christmas? - and he's given the chance to find out what a "real, down-to-earth" life feels like. Oh boy.

I trust you've seen the movie, so I won't go into a long synopsis of the plot. (If you haven't seen it yet, crawl out from under your rock, add it to your Christmas viewing list, go rent it, and you can thank me later!)

I'll just say this: what happens to Jack Campbell - being transported Scrooge-style from his penthouse bed on Christmas Eve into a parallel universe - would be an equally troubling experience for anyone during this Christmas season, but an experience that might do some good.

If the Spirits of Christmas - past, present and future - were to visit you, what powerful or painful moments from your life would you see? And based on your current trajectory, what does your future look like?

Let's approach this question from the "fly-on-the-wall" vantage point. To whom among your family or friends would you love to see this happen? Who do you know that needs just such a "wake-up" call?  Is there a Scrooge in your life to whom you would love to play Marley (while still alive, of course!)?

The biblical account of Christmas ought to be as disturbing to us as a visitation from Marley or the Christmas Spirits.

The angels come to announce the birth of the Savior...but the story is very different from the way we would tell it if we were writing...

God chooses folks of humble origin to parent the Christ child. The angels make their joyous announcement of God's peace and good will to society's least and last (the shepherds were the social outcasts or their day). All of this happens in out of the way places, in "fly-over country" as we call it today. It only comes to the attention of the political and religious leaders later, when Jesus is sought by magi from the east, when they alert a jealous, counterfeit Jewish King Herod of the birth of the true "King of the Jews."

Herod was nervous because he knew he was a phony. And the political and religious leaders around him also knew that their power was based on fraud and deceit. God comes into our world and shines his light into our comfortable, self-centered lives and says, "Is that it? Is that all you've got, Jack Campbell?"

We like the baby Jesus at Christmas - harmless, gentle, sweet. But when he is King Jesus he's a bit unnerving - he intends to be on the various thrones that we've created - political thrones; cultural and religious thrones; the "money, sex and power" thrones where we sit, planning our next conquest.

God isn't out to squash our fun. But he knows that there's something so much better for us - like Jack Campbell - but we will need to make some radical adjustments in our lives. We will need to let go of what seem to us like good or even great things in order to make room for the best things, God's gracious gifts. God can only place his gifts in open, empty hands.

And, like Jack Campbell, you will have to "walk by faith" for a while. At first this new life, with God in control, will feel like a strange fit, like someone else's clothes. It won't impress like the old wardrobe.  But it's much more comfortable, much more durable, and it is more "suited" to our new life (okay, one bad pun!).

So when the Christmas Spirits show up, it can be scary. It feels very threatening, it IS very threatening. King Jesus intends to transform the kingdoms of this world into the kingdom of our Lord. And the kingdom he will start with is the one you are presiding over today.

Stay connected,

Pastor Mike

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Merry Christmas, signed: Bob Dylan

Bob Dylan has released a Christmas CD this year, entitled "Christmas In The Heart."

Don't worry, I don't expect you to run out and buy it! (I don't even have it yet...Kathy did promise to get it for me for Christmas...) Dylan's voice is Dylan's voice, and some people just can't get past that - or maybe won't take the time to listen seriously to his lyrics to hear from a man who is still one of the most engaging prophetic artists of our time.

So I know - I know - there just aren't many (if any?) serious Dylan fans among those who normally read this blog! By a "serious" Dylan fan, I mean someone who can name a song title or album title that Dylan has released in the last 25 years, which would be sometime since'cha can't do it!

Some of Dylan's fans of his older music might wonder why he would release a Christmas album, and reviewers who have heard it are all over the place in their reviews.  I've heard clips of a couple songs on the internet, and read some of the reviews.

Indeed, the questions could run along this line of thinking: "Why would Dylan release a Christmas album?  After all, isn't he Jewish?  I thought he got over that Christian phase of his a long time ago?"

But as I continue to listen to Dylan's music (and I have most of his albums of new material released in the past 30 years), I hear him expressing - in his own apocalyptic, mysterious and enigmatic way - a searching faith that struggles to embrace his Jewish roots with a Messianic Christian worldview...and I find Dylan's "wrestling in song" more compelling than most of the contemporary Christian music that is being created and released today (which may say more about my limited awareness of contemporary Christian music over the past few years than it does about contemporary artists and their music).

We'll come back to Dylan's new Christmas album in a moment...

This year marks the 20th anniversary of - in my humble opinion - one of the best albums of Dylan's entire career, the 1989 release, Oh Mercy.

Oh Mercy was released ten years after Dylan's breakout "Christian" album, Slow Train Coming, yet it contains songs that ought to be as compelling for people of faith as the songs on that 1979 artistic masterpiece.

(ASIDE: It should be noted that Slow Train Coming was praised - sometimes years later - by many critics, even some who didn't resonate with Dylan's overt Christian lyrics on the album. And many songs from this phase of Dylan's career have been recorded by some of today's best known gospel artists - Shirley Ceasar, Dottie Peoples, Aaron Neville, Helen Baylor, Mighty Clouds of Joy, Mavis Staples - on the 2003 album entitled Gotta Serve Somebody: The Gospel Songs of Bob Dylan. This is a poweful, moving album of black gospel music! It's a testament to just how good these Dylan songs are - how well they hold up over time, and how well they translate when interpreted by other artists.)

Song titles from Oh Mercy include, "Everything is Broken," "Ring Them Bells," "Political World," "What Good Am I?" and "Disease of Conceit."

"Everything Is Broken" is an honest, painful look at the brokenness of our world - not just broken stuff, but broken relationships, broken systems, and the likelihood that nothing "under the sun" is going to change that.

"Ring Them Bells" is one of the most moving songs on the album; it is both hymn and anthem with it's words and deliberately slow but intentional forward requires you to take it seriously.  Here are a couple verses that illustrate Dylan's worldview, a worldview which includes more than what the eye can see:

Ring them bells St. Peter
Where the four winds blow,
Ring them bells with an iron hand
So the people will know.
Oh it's rush hour now
On the wheel and the plow
And the sun is going down
Upon the sacred cow.

Ring them bells Sweet Martha,
For the poor man's son,
Ring them bells so the world will know
That God is one.
Oh the shepherd is asleep
Where the willows weep
And the mountains are filled
With lost sheep.

(Copyright ©1989 Special Rider Music)

There's more, but these two verses give a glimpse into Dylan's head for those willing to consider what he's saying.  The last four lines quoted above are interesting...who is "the shepherd"? What does Dylan mean by "lost sheep"? These are powerful biblical images used especially by the Old Testament prophets, but also by Jesus.  While it is dangerous to read meanings into lyrics (I'm tempted to view "the shepherd" as the Church today, failing to be faithful in addressing the brokenness of our culture, and therefore leaving many sheep lost), these lyrics say quite a bit themselves about what Dylan thinks of the current condition of the church, the world, and our culture.

"What Good Am I?" is a powerful examination of a life, an examination the subject fails:

What good am I if I'm like all the rest,
If I just turned away, when I see how you're dressed,
If I shut myself off so I can't hear you cry,
What good am I?

What good am I if I know and don't do,
If I see and don't say, if I look right through you,
If I turn a deaf ear to the thunderin' sky,
What good am I?

What good am I while you softly weep
And I hear in my head what you say in your sleep,
And I freeze in the moment like the rest who don't try,
What good am I?

What good am I then to others and me
If I've had every chance and yet still fail to see
If my hands tied must I not wonder within
Who tied them and why and where must I have been.

What good am I if I say foolish things
And I laugh in the face of what sorrow brings
And I just turn my back while you silently die,
What good am I?

(Copyright ©1989 Special Rider Music)


Dylan seems to be relentlessly on tour these days, and continues to perform songs from throughout his 40-plus year career. The set list is constantly changing, to include new music from his latest releases, but he also delights fans with his old hits, and leaves some of them perplexed by his occasional inclusion of his "Christian" songs. For example, at concerts in 2008, Dylan added the song "I Believe In You" from 1979's Slow Train Coming to his set. He sang,

Don’t let me drift too far,
Keep me where you are
Where I will always be renewed.
And that which you’ve given me today
Is worth more than I could pay
And no matter what they say
I believe in you.

(Copyright ©1979 Special Rider Music)


So...why has Dylan released a Christmas album? And a Christmas album chock full of traditional Christmas favorites...AND...Christian Christmas carols (I know, "Christian Christmas" is redundant) that proclaim the birth of the Savior of the world?

Well, we should just let Dylan's music speak for him (as I said above, it's dangerous to read into things, much as we're all tempted). He chose "Oh Little Town of Bethlehem" to close out the album. It's one of the cuts I've heard (isn't the internet wonderful?!). Clocking in at just over two minutes, with only two of the carol's verses, here are the words from the last song on Dylan's Christmas album, sung slowly, thoughtfully, and even reverently by Dylan and his backup singers:

Oh little town of Bethlehem how still we see thee lie,
above thy deep and dreamless sleep the silent stars go by.
Yet in thy dark streets shine, in everlasting light,
the hopes and fears of all the years, are met in thee tonight.

How silently, how silently the wondrous gift is given;
so God imparts to human hearts, the blessings of all his heaven.
No ear may hear his coming, but in this world of sin,
where meek souls will receive him still, the dear Christ enters in.

So while there's seasonal fun and frivolity in the songs of this album ("Here Comes Santa Claus," The Christmas Blues" and "Christmas Island"), there is also an abiding and longing faith expressed in Dylan's interpretation of the church's traditional Christmas carols and hymns. Dylan sings the closing "Amen," which means, "truly" or "it is true," leaving us to ponder the meaning of this over our eggnog or hot chocolate.

I'll leave it to you to make up your own mind. As I continue to listen to Dylan's music (and, in my opinion, much of his best music has been written in the past 20 years, as Dylan gets older and wiser), I still hear a passionate prophetic voice whose message will resonate long after the man himself has left this all behind.

Stay connected,

Pastor Mike

*It should be mentioned here that all of Dylan's profits from the album Christmas In The Heart are being donated to various charities in the United States and other countries to feed the hungry.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Tiger Woods - the Legend is Human

...and right now, not a very pretty picture of humanity.

But an accurate one. And a reminder once again that our heroes can fall, even from very high and seemingly indestructable pedestals.

So what will we learn from Tiger's "transgressions," to use his word for his marital unfaithfulness and chronic adultery?

Tiger Woods is not just the envy of the average man on the street; he's no doubt the envy of quite a few of his fellow star athletes. He's the richest - at somewhere between $800 million and over $1 billion.  He's a legend on the golf course, and still young enough to grow that legacy. He has a beautiful wife, if external appearance means anything (and to most of us, it does) and a couple of healthy children.

And yet we've learned in the past two weeks that he has been involved in affairs with several (and maybe more than several) women, who's stories are beginning to be told in the media.

So Tiger Woods is a dirtbag. A sleazeball. A loser. A lowdown, no-good, cheating, carousing, two-timing member of the species.

I know that all sounds harsh, and some will say I'm oversimplifying his "situation." But sometimes the truth is pretty simple. And simple is something that most people, regardless of their moral or religious convictions, recognize pretty quickly and easily.  When a married man has sex with another woman, that's adultery. That's cheating on his wife. That's low. It's WRONG.  Even our irreligious media can get that one right (especially when it's guaranteed to sell).

I don't mean to single out Tiger Woods, as though he's the only one who ever "transgressed" in this way. The list of folks who have committed adultery is long and is not limited by economic or social class. We all know folks in our own workplaces, neighborhoods, and even churches who have cheated on their spouses (...there's more than one adulterer mentioned in the Bible!). And we know we're all capable of it, too.

I'm singling Tiger out because we observe a powerful truth at work - call it a spiritual truth if you want, but Truth, nonetheless.

Tiger has it all; I've already given the rundown of his accomplishments, blessings and worldly wealth. So you ask, "What more could a man want?" After all, who wouldn't trade places with Tiger Woods (before this past week's revelations, of course!)? And if not trade places, who wouldn't want to experience success at his level? Surely he has life by the tail?

But if we've learned anything, we've learned that success does not guarantee fulfillment. Something in Tiger's head or heart was still yearning, still not fulfilled, still searching. How is that possible, when he seemed to have it all?

Again, this will sound like a simplistic response, but the Truth isn't usually rocket science. Jesus said you can gain the whole world and still lose your soul. You can be so rich your neighbors all envy you, and yet be unhappy and still searching for something - just ask Zaccheaus.  Ask any Hollywood star, ask any great athlete. Ask Tiger.

He's not the first to learn this lesson. He won't be the his story slips off the front page there will be others. And there will be those in your circle of friends who won't get their picture in the tabloids.

The question is, what will Tiger learn from this? Anything? Will he do the necessary self-reflection, self-examination that could lead to acknowledging the deeper need in his spirit?

We should pray for Tiger - maybe he's at a place now where he himself has realized how empty his "full" life really is. That can be a good place to be - if we're spiritually open and willing to seek God's grace and redemption.

And every one of us should confess right now, "Lord, but for Your grace, there am I." And we should back away from judging the person (while still judging their behavior for what it is, wrong and hurtful to all concerned). We should see Tiger's fall as a warning of what can happen to any of us if we look for success or fulfillment in this worlds pursuits, accomplishments or treasures.

May you pray for Tiger, and for anyone else you know who is struggling in sin. And then pray for yourself. Ask God to keep you in his grace, and to help you find your life in Him.

Stay connected,

Pastor Mike

Friday, October 23, 2009

Why Giving IS Better Than Receiving

I was listening to the radio recently when an ad came on offering a "free" vacation to the Caribbean.  It said that 500 of these vacations were being offered in our area for a limited time.

Hmmm...what's the catch?  Well, the first suspect thing I heard in the ad - which went by very quickly, making it hard to hear all the details (of course) -  was that this was a free TWO DAY vacation. That's not very long to spend in the Caribbean.  As a matter of fact, they would probably tell you that you can't even get on and off the cruise ship in two will have to add a few more days to the cruise to take advantage of this your own expense, of course!

Other details escape my memory, but it was a reminder about a lot of the "free" offers that are out there...remember the old saying, "If something sounds too good to be true, it probably is"?

Some "gifts" are like that. They come with strings attached. Whether it's the gift of a free (two day!) Caribbean vacation, or the gift from a friend, relative or business associate who then expects you to remember their generosity when they need something from you!

So why are we such suckers for "free" stuff? Why do we want to believe that we can actually get something for nothing?  Life doesn't work that way...there's always a catch. Nothing's really free, and most of the "free" stuff is junk either breaks almost immediately, or never lives up to it's promise to begin with.

There's something in the human heart that wants to take the easy route, to get something for free rather than work for it.  Which may just be part of our current debt problem in America:

Why should I save up for something I want when I can use a credit card and charge it now?
Why wait?
Why delay my pleasure and gratification of my desires?

This seems to be the attitude of the young man in Jesus' parable about the prodigal son (Luke 15:11-32). He's the younger of two sons, and he demands his share of his inheritance from his father.  He doesn't want to wait to receive what's "rightfully his."  He wants to enjoy life now

The father gives him his share of his inheritance, and soon he's headed for the bright lights of the big city.  It's party time!  But it doesn't take long for him to burn through all his inheritance, and he goes quickly from being the life of Bourbon Street to being an untouchable street person.  The only job he can get it feeding hogs, which for a kosher Jewish boy is not real desirable or good for the ol' ego!

I want to pause here to make a couple observations: 

First, I suspect that, while all the spending and high life seemed fun at the time, this young man had little appreciation for what it all cost. His money was easy come, easy go...and I doubt he was really getting much satisfaction from the spending, because he had no idea of the value of that money. He had no idea how much toil, saving and patience was necessary to create that wealth...why would he? It was handed to him. 

When we "buy" something on credit, we dont' fully appreciate its value. That leads to lower satisfaction with our purchase. And it leads to the desire for something new again because my pleasure was short-lived.

Second, because he himself did not earn the money through toil, saving and patience, he also did not look ahead and plan for tomorrow.  He was living for the moment. He probably thought dad's 'gravy train' would never run dry. He had no sense of self-responsibility. He wasn't tracking his spending, or his bank balance. He wasn't making any effort to take care of his future financial needs with today's time, strength and opportunities.

When we keep spending all that we have - and MORE than we have - today, there will be nothing there to take care of us tomorrow. Which means we will have to continue to work - both for our own needs, but also to pay back whoever else we owe for yesterday's fun and forgotten stuff. And often it means serving someone else, instead of being self-employed or in control of our own life.

While these observations aren't the main point of the story of the prodigal son (I'll get to that in a future post), they point to some important principles for living that I've talking about in this current sermon series on stewardship

1) God wants us to be content with what we have, so that we will be good stewards of the wealth he entrusts to us. Toil, savings and patience lead to a personal balance sheet and net worth that's in the black instead of in the red.  But you will only exercise the discipline necessary to live this way if you truly trust God to meet your needs and CHOOSE to be content with what you have. That's right, contentment is a CHOICE! And I'm going to talk about this on Sunday...the message is called "Cultivating Contentment."  Contentment makes saving and planning wisely for the future possible.

2) When you choose contentment - and over time develop a net worth that's in the black - you have resources that can be used for your own needs and wants, but they can also be used for God's purposes.  You have the financial means to invest in worthy causes and ministries.  You have the resources to help someone else who has hit a rough spot. You have the resources to invest in your own or someone else's great idea for a product or enterprise than can create more wealth for the future. And you will likely create more jobs and livelihoods for other persons, blessing their lives as well!

Why is GIVING better than RECEIVING?

Because if you are in a position to GIVE, it means you have disciplined yourself to earn and save, creating wealth that can help others.  It means you are being a responsible, productive person and you are using the gifts and resources God has entrusted to you in faithful stewardship.  And someday you will hear those words of Jesus spoken in another parable, "Well done, good and faithful servant!"

So while sometimes it certainly is a blessing to receive (it certainly has been at times in my life)... is truly the greater blessing to GIVE than to RECEIVE.

Stay connected...

Pastor Mike

Friday, October 16, 2009

It's NOT the Economy, Stupid!

The number one concern of most Americans right now is the economy and jobs.  We've had several church members lose their jobs in recent weeks. Many more are concerned about further cuts that could happen in their workplace. 

Meanwhile, most of us aren't prepared for a layoff.  Americans are saving between -1% and 1% of their income!  (This compares with an average savings rate in China of around 25%!)  And we are in debt - the average credit card debt in America is over $9,000.

Our federal government reflects 'we the people,' with debt that is growing daily and is in the hundreds of billions of dollars, money that we are borrowing from other countries and will have to repay - someday, somehow.

What's our problem? 

Guess what - it's NOT the economy!

While we definitely have financial problems, our money crisis is a symptom of a deeper problem.  All of our spending and borrowing and debt points to a flaw in our collective character (and our individual minds and hearts). 

In spite of having so much - in fact, having all that we need and more...

...we are not CONTENT.

We are restless, bored, searching for something ... and in the process we shop, we buy, we borrow, we travel and vacation and entertain ourselves - we go deeper into debt, and still feel the same restless dissatisfaction.

What's missing inside each on of us that keeps pushing us to want more?

Part of what's missing is a sense of purpose and identity...
...what's missing is knowing WHO I am and WHY I'm here.

We have an internal need or desire for significance and purpose, and unless we fulfill this, we are restless. Our antidote is to spend, spend, spend and we are in serious debt, which leads to further stress - and often more spending!

This internal desire for purpose is something that God put in us when we were created as human beings.  We're not satisfied to just consume and act like animals.  We need something more to be fulfilled. We need to give and contribute.  We need to know we're making a difference.

This is a spiritual issue - that is, it goes beyond the physical or the biological - or the financial!  God created us as spiritual beings, and part of our spiritual fulfillment comes from learning his purposes for us. God is our compass and roadmap.  No wonder Jesus said he was the light, and the bread of life.  Without him we're directionless and hungry for more...even when we've gorged ourselves on food and pleasure.

This Sunday will be the second in our series called "Enough: Discovering Joy Through Simplicity and Generosity." I'm going to address this issue - helping us be clear about our purpose and calling.  When we discover and accept God's plans and purposes for our lives, we are able to experience the freedom that comes from contentment.

I'll also share some simple financial principles we all need to remember to act wisely in the area of finances; that's why this message is entitled "Wisdom and Finance."

And we're giving every person who attends Sunday a 'sticky card' (that you can stick to your bathroom mirror or a window) that has these important financial principles on it. This tool will be a daily reminder to encourage you to be content and discover God's deeper purpose for your life!

I look forward to seeing you this Sunday!

Stay connected...

Pastor Mike

Thursday, October 8, 2009

The Right PLACE to Share Christ?

In my previous blog post, I suggested that as Christians we need to be careful about WHERE we go and the ACTIVITIES we're involved in with our non-Christian (I also used the term "pre-Christian") friends. Specifically, I suggested that hanging out in bars (or other questionable places) can be problematic for believers, since there are usually temptations we should avoid.

I received an excellent response to my comments from a pastor (who I am blessed to know as a friend and colleague in ministry) who serves in a smaller community where sometimes the bar is the only place in town to get a sandwich or connect with people. (This was true when we lived in St. Edward, NE, as well; the two places in town where you could sit down and have a decent lunch were the Hitching Post Bar (& Grill) or the City Cafe, which was connected to the Polka Dot Lounge.) 

He made some valid points with passion and clarity, so I asked his permission to share his comments, which I'll follow up with a couple thoughts in response. (And thanks, brother, for letting me share your wise words!)

I like your BLOG... and the layout and photos are great... but I would like to comment on one item: the bar! I have another perspective.

In some locations the bar is the ONLY place to hang out! To eat, to get a diet Pepsi or iced tea... and the only place where a Christian may have constant contact with acquaintances who NEED to HAVE a Christian friend.

While I agree that hanging out in the bar to drink and ogle the opposite sex is a very bad habit to develop, and some bars are nothing but trouble... not every bar is like that.

My church members would tell you that I have made a quantifiable mark on this community by hanging out in the bar. While there, I am clearly identified by the patrons as "Pastor," so that everybody else knows that I am there too! As a result the language has improved, the atmosphere has changed and quite a number of people come and sit with me to ask their religious and philosphical questions. Several have started attending church. Several have requested that I do their funerals. Two have accepted Christ on their death beds!

THAT's why I hang out at the bar in (name of town where he serves). However, if the bishop moves us in the future... somewhere like Lincoln or Omaha... (who knows?) I'm going to find a good bar to hang out in! Because hanging out in this one has made an incredible difference over a three year period.

I don't like foul language, men hitting on women & vice versa, or loud obnoxious arguments... but in three years that has died down quite a bit... because most of the people know there's a Christian pastor in the bar who preaches what he believes and believes what he preaches. Sometimes they try to "shock" me... but my failure to react generally produces an apology. It has actually been fun!

Not to mention that there are a bunch of people who don't have a pastor. That's my OTHER congregation.

I appreciate the perspective my friend has offered.  It emphasizes an important point or principle:

What is your intention for going to a place (bar, etc.) where Christians would not normally hang out?  Are you going there "armored up" in prayer - with the intent of being salt and light, or are you going there "broken up" and planning to drown your sorrows or look for comfort and encouragement from the wrong person?

Answer these questions honestly, and you'll know whether it's right for your to be there.

My pastor friend has shared that there is potential for serious ministry to happen in unlikely (or maybe the most likely!) places. Jesus didn't shy away from such places or persons. He spent a lot of time sharing his passion for the least, the last and the lost, and connecting with them and their needs.  It all depends on your intention; your spiritual maturity and your willingness to be used by God.

So....are you taking Jesus with you when you go to such places?

That's the ultimate litmus test.

Stay connected...

Pastor Mike

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Who Should I Be Spending Time With?

Here's an excellent question someone texted to me at the end of last Sunday's (October 4) sermon:

How do we balance bringing lost people to Christ with not keeping "bad" company?

Someone else texted me nearly the same question, so it was obviously a blind spot in my message!

For those of you who weren't there, the message was "WHY (join the) CHURCH?" I gave several reasons why I believe Christians need to be connected to each other in the body of Christ:

1) We all need healing in our human relationships.  All of our relationships are broken and damaged in some way by sin, and in the body of Christ, through God's grace, we learn how to have healthy relationships with others. We discover healthy connections based on unconditional love, forgiveness and grace rather than performance, perfection or possession.

2) We reflect God most accurately when we are in healthy relationships with those around us. Before the world existed, there was God alone, but God was not alone!  God was in fellowship - in connection and relationship, if you will - as Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  We were created in God's image, and deep within our "God image" is the need for relationship with others. People are hungy for authentic friendship and relationship; the church should be a place where people experience these kinds of meaningful connection. 

3) We cannot grow as disciples of Jesus Christ without vital connections with other growing Christians. Spiritual growth happens as we study together, pray together, worship and serve together. We need modeling. Jesus own disciples needed to spend time with him in order to be influenced by him. Those we spend significant amounts of time with will influence us the most.

So...we need to be connected with other believers in the church in order to keep our spiritual life vital and growing. 

But we also need to reach the lost. This is accomplished as we build relationships with them so that our witness to them is genuine and based on real connection, not just shallow attempts to "win them for Jesus."  And most of us have non-Christian friends, neighbors and co-workers with whom we spend significant time.

So back to our question:

How do we balance bringing lost people to Christ with not keeping "bad" company?

I'll just offer a couple suggestions, and perhaps others will chime in here from their own wisdom and experience (I would welcome that!).

First, WHERE are you spending time with your non-Christian friends?  Is it an unhealthy atmosphere?  Is it a place that promotes unhealthy relationships?  It's one thing to go out to dinner or go to a sporting event (or concert, etc.) with friends, it's another thing to spend the evening at a bar or other place where the main purpose is to consume lots of "adult beverages" and "check out" members of the opposite sex. 

Did I put that delicately enough? 

Throughout scripture there are warnings about avoiding evil or wicked people and the activities of those who do not honor or worship God. Psalm 1:1 says,

"Blessed (or 'happy') are those
who do not follow the advice of the wicked,
or take the path that sinners tread,
or sit in the seat of scoffers..."

St. Paul says, "Don't be deceived: Bad company ruins good morals" (1 Corinthians 15:33).

Second, is this activity (or group of persons) conducive to healthy relationships, or am I likely to be tempted to think or act in ways that would compromise my Christian faith and witness?  You may say to yourself, "I'm strong, I know my limits," and so on, but be realistic.  We're all human and we're all subject to temptation.  Why put yourself in that kind of atmosphere, and why go there with a non-Christian friend (or friends), seeming to lend your approval to them going there by your presence? 

Jesus says, "See, I am sending you out like sheep into the midst of wolves; so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves" (Matthew 10:16).  In other words, "Don't kid yourself, don't be naive and stupid."

God wants us to reach out to the unbelievers around us with genuine love, building relationships that will help them see Christ in us.  You need to be wise and discern how to build those relationships.  That includes what you do when you spend time together, and the kinds of places you go for "fellowship." 

Can you always avoid meeting in a place where you're uncomfortable?  No, obviously not.  But be aware of your witness in that atmosphere, and look for opportunities to spend time with your non-Christian friends in places where you can demonstrate and share the love of Christ in positive, grace-giving ways.

Find the balance in your life.  Spend time with fellow Christians so that you are growing spiritually and being strengthened in your faith.  Spend time with your "pre-Christian" friends and associates when there are opportunities for building bridges of authentic friendship where God's grace can work.

Stay connected...

Pastor Mike

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Stop Trying To Be Good!

One of the greatest dangers to your spiritual growth, and mine, is trying to be a good person.  I know, I know, you think I've really lost it now! But keep reading...

Christianity differs from every other belief system in that your status with God is not based on your good works; your achievements (whether moral, financial, athletic, academic, social, etc.). Your status with God is totally based on God’s grace given to you (a “free” gift), and living your life daily out of that received grace, merited through Jesus Christ.

But many Christians stop walking in the grace that they accepted when they experienced the new birth.  They stop walking in that daily gift of forgiveness, new every morning.  Instead, they - you and me - start working at it, and pretty soon, we start thinking it's more about our effort rather than God's gift.

Eventually we Christians start basing our spiritual journey on our activity rather than our adoption.

When John Wesley had his "Aldersgate experience" of God's acceptance by grace through faith, and realized that his sins were forgiven, he said he went from being a "servant" of God to being a "son" of God; he went from living on the porch to living in the house as a member of the family.

Many of us move back to the porch; we start acting like servants of God again instead of beloved children. We lose the joy of our relationship as a child of God, loved and cherished!  We become like the older brother in the story of the prodigal son, who said to his father, "Look, all these many years I have served you..." (Luke 15:29).

He had no joy in his relationship with his father; it was all work and drudgery.

And he despised his own brother.

Why?  Because the younger brother didn't live up to his high standard. And even though the younger brother realized what a fool he'd been, and came home repentant - willing to be a servant to his father - the older brother judged him unworthy.

He wouldn't even call him "brother" anymore.  He referred to him as,"this son of yours" when speaking to his father (15:30). 

This is the danger for you and me.  If we are working ourselves to the nubs for God - with the attitude of the older brother - trust me; we will be keeping score.  And most people aren't going to meet our high standard. And if they get close, we'll raise the bar higher! 

Because we've slipped into "works-righteousness." We've stopped receiving God's gift. Now we're trying to earn it.  We set standards others can't meet, trying to make ourselves look better while everyone else comes up short.

We become Pharisees.

Paul the apostle shared his heart in Philippians 3, confessing that he used to live this kind of life:

       "We rely on what Christ Jesus has done for us. We put no confidence in human effort, though I could have confidence in my own effort if anyone could. Indeed, if others have reason for confidence in their own efforts, I have even more!
       "I was circumcised when I was eight days old. I am a pure-blooded citizen of Israel and a member of the tribe of Benjamin—a real Hebrew if there ever was one! I was a member of the Pharisees, who demand the strictest obedience to the Jewish law...and as for righteousness, I obeyed the law without fault.
       "I once thought these things were valuable, but now I consider them worthless because of what Christ has done. Yes, everything else is worthless when compared with the infinite value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord." (Phil. 3:3-8, New Living Translation)

So another danger of this attitude is hinted at by Paul: if I'm earning it myself, I don't need Jesus.  I can manage.

Friends, this is NOT Christianity.  It is counterfeit faith.  It produces judgmental Christians and churches. It divides us instead of uniting us. It's the hypocrisy that the world sees in us. And it's ugly. 

Take a few moments and examine your heart.  Let the Holy Spirit shine a light into the rooms in your spiritual house and check your motivations:

Are you walking freely in grace today? 
Or are you anxious about all you need to do.
Are you keeping score for yourself, and for others?

After you've spent some time reflecting on this, put all the wrong motives and judgmental attitudes at the foot of the cross. Thank Jesus again for offering himself for you, and thank him again for his gift of eternal life - unmerited, unearned, yours by faith in Christ alone!

When you've left that burden at the cross, please come back in the house, and join the family at the table!

Stay connected...

Pastor Mike

Friday, October 2, 2009

The JESUS Question...Is Jesus the Only Way?

After last Sunday's sermon "Why (choose) Christianity," I received several questions from persons that can be summed up in this question that was texted to me:

"If Jesus is the only way...what happens to those who don't hear about Jesus?"

A related question asked, "What about those who lived before Jesus was born?"

And of course, the most direct question like this, simply put, is this, "Isn't saying that Jesus is the only way of salvation descriminating against those who believe something else, or practice a different religion?"

These questions all arise out of our desire to be fair, to appear open-minded, and to not be seen as intolerant by others. ("Tolerance" has become THE highest virtue in our culture today! But, as we see in our society over and over again, "tolerance" can be pretty intolerant of the views of others when it becomes the supreme value to which we must bow.  More about this later in another post.)

So again, our question:

"If Jesus is the only way...
...what happens to those who don't hear about Jesus?"

Christians believe that God loves all that he has created, and it is his desire that all persons come to him through his gift of grace and forgiveness in Jesus Christ. (Most other religions also believe in the need for 'salvation' and offer some 'way' to achieve it.) But many persons were born before Jesus ever lived, and there are many more who have been born since Jesus lived who have never heard of him (after all, we haven't always had You Tube!).

God loves all these persons, but they haven't heard the gospel message of Jesus.  How can they know of God's gifts of love, grace and salvation?

The reality of our human condition is that we have ALL sinned.  Every person who has ever lived "falls short of the glory of God" (Romans 3:23).  None of us have met God's perfect, holy standard. We have all lived less than perfect lives; we're selfish, we gossip, we steal, we lust, we want what others have. If we're being honest, we all know that we're imperfect; we know we are without excuse...and this will become painfully true for each one of us when we stand before our holy, perfect Creator.

So we all need forgiveness.  Every person needs God's gift of grace through Christ to redeem our less than perfect lives.

The New Testament tells us how persons will receive this chance to hear the good news even if they are not reached in this life. In 1 Peter 3:18-20 we read:

       "For Christ also suffered for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, in order to bring you to God. He was put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit, in which also he went and made a proclamation to the spirits in prison, who in former times did not obey, when God waited patiently in the days of Noah, during the building of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were saved through water."

When it says Christ "went and made proclamation to the spirits in prison," some scholars believe this is a reference to Christ sharing the good news of salvation so that they will have an opportunity to respond.  This is further supported by Peter's words a few verses later in 1 Peter 4:5-6:

       "But they will have to give an accounting to him who stands ready to judge the living and the dead. For this is the reason the gospel was proclaimed even to the dead, so that, though they had been judged in the flesh as everyone is judged, they might live in the spirit as God does."

God's desire is that we would "live in the spirit as God does."  He will provide every person a day for salvation as well as a day for judgment.  This is the righteous, perfect God that we worship! 

In Romans 14:9 Paul writes:

       "For to this end Christ died and lived again, so that he might be Lord of both the dead and the living."

Jesus will reign over the living and the dead.  (James says that even the demons believe that he is Lord, and they shudder in fear [James 2:19].) He is Lord of all, those who receive him, and those who reject him. There are persons who hear the good news but reject Christ; God gives us this freedom and this choice. God will not force anyone to worship him or spend eternity in his presence. But God's desire is for every person to receive Christ's gift of forgiveness and salvation. 

For this reason, and based on the texts above, I believe every person will have an opportunity to hear and respond to the gospel. 

But how much better for us, and for every person, to know we have eternal life today, right now?  For this reason the church - and every member of Christ's body - must share his message, so that all can receive this Good Gift!

Stay connected...

Pastor Mike

Monday, September 21, 2009

The Jesus Question...Why Jesus?

"WHY (believe in) JESUS?"

Why Jesus?
Isn't claiming that Jesus is unique intolerant
What about other religions, other "ways to God?"
How can someone claim that one way is better than others?

All religions make some unique, distinct truth claims that could be labeled intolerant.  Judaism, Islam, Christianity, and other religions have doctrines (truth claims) that distinguish them from one another. And, in reality, persons who are secular/non-religious, agnostic or athiest also make distinctive truth claims which can't be reconciled with what others believe, and are therefore, by the same definition, intolerant.

Everyone has some sort of belief system which does two things:

(1) their belief system makes truth claims which cannot be reconciled with other faith's truth claims, and

(2) at the foundation, every belief system is based on faith, because all of its truth claims cannot be proven by scientific observation, reason or logic.  This is as true of the athiest's beliefs as it is of the Christian's beliefs...both accept some tenets of their belief system by faith, not scientific evidence.

So why be Christian instead of agnostic, or Muslim, or Wiccan? Is it fair to say Christianity is superior to any of these other faiths/belief systems/worldviews?

I believe the answer to that question is a resounding "yes!" - or I would not and could not be a Christian minister (or even a Christian, period). I could not and would not ask others to be part of the Christian faith if I didn't believe it accurately spoke about life, God, truth, and salvation.

Last Sunday (September 20), I asked the question, "Why believe in Jesus?"  Jesus has been a polarizing figure in history for 2,000 years.  He has received the devotion and worship of millions (likely over a billion people on earth today are Christians), but he is only seen as a great teacher or religious leader by many others, and even as a myth by many, who doubt he ever lived.

There is plenty of evidence that Jesus was a real, historical person.  A number of first century A.D. and later texts - both Christian and non-Christian historical texts - speak of Jesus as a 1st century Jew who lived in Palestine. Josephus is one such historian from the 1st century who mentions Jesus several times, acknowledging him as a religious leader who had many followers.

The Christian movement from the first century on is evidence for Jesus as well; without the historical figure of Jesus (whom his followers believed not only suffered and died on a Roman cross, but was also raised from the dead with a recognizable body), why would these people suffer for their beliefs, and in many cases even suffer death because they would not recant their faith in Jesus as the Christ, the Messiah?

The answer is: their belief in Jesus resurrection - and consequently their own resurrection after death - was so strong a conviction that they were willing to remain faithful to his teachings, and even to suffer loss of reputation, health and life itself. 

Another reason I believe Jesus is, in his own words, "the way, the truth, and the life," is because he himself made these claims about himself, and he never backed away from them. No other teacher or leader of another religion has claimed to be a savior. Many have claimed to be - and have been lauded as - great teachers, but Jesus claimed to be more. He claimed to be sent from God and he claimed to be the Savior of the world. 

Other religious leaders have pointed to the divine.
Jesus alone has claimed to BE divine.

He could not make that kind of a claim without stirring up some questions and some doubts from people.  Jesus definitely stirred people up - and he still does today!  The Pharisees and other Jewish religious leaders of his own day understood exactly what Jesus was claiming for himself, and they plotted to destroy him for his claims. They were convinced that Jesus' claims about himself were blasphemy against their Jewish faith, Torah and traditions.

But many others believed Jesus, including a few of the religious leaders, like Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea. Why? Because Jesus' teachings resonated in their hearts and minds as truth, but also because he did miraculous things ("signs") which were evidence that he was no mere man; he exhibited power over nature, sickness and even death (Lazarus' death, and later his own death) which created belief in many persons. 

One of the great minds of the 20th century, C.S. Lewis, wrote extensively about the evidence for Jesus as the Son of God and the savior of the world in a number of books, but particularly in Mere Christianity.  Even though baptized as an infant, Lewis became an agnostic in his youth, then became a brilliant professor of medieval literature at Oxford University in England. 

As Lewis wrestled more and more with the claims of Christianity, he finally concluded that the evidence was overwhelming: he became a Christian (around the age of 30), joined the Church of England, and spent the rest of his life defending the faith and writing marvelous books to help others deepen their faith in Christ (including the Chronicles of Narnia series, The Screwtape Letters, and The Space Trilogy).

One often quoted passage from Mere Christianity succinctly makes the argument for Jesus as savior of the world:

       I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept his claim to be God. That is the one thing we must not say.

       A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic — on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God, but let us not come with any patronising nonsense about his being a great human teacher.

       He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to. ... Now it seems to me obvious that He was neither a lunatic nor a fiend: and consequently, however strange or terrifying or unlikely it may seem, I have to accept the view that He was and is God.

Lewis's words resonate with my mind and with my soul; perhaps they do with yours as well. Many others have written powerful arguments for the Christian faith (these arguments are called 'apologies,' and arguing for the faith is called 'apologetics'). One recent author who comes to mind is Lee Strobel, an agnostic journalist who examined the claims of Christ, eventually became a believer, and wrote the excellent The Case for Christ: A Journalist's Personal Investigation of the Evidence for Jesus. This book has helped many persons examine the claims of Christianity and the struggles and questions that are often raised about faith in Jesus Christ.

I look forward to hearing from you if you have unanswered questions about why we should accept Jesus as the savior of the world.  And remember, no question is too silly or insignificant to ask if you are honestly struggling with it! So please ask, and let's keep the conversation going, and

Stay connected...

Pastor Mike

Friday, September 18, 2009


That stand for "gear acquisition syndrome," or, more specifically (in my case), "guitar acquisition syndrome."

Occasionally someone will ask me, "How many guitars do you have?" I think this is because I play for worship, and people see a revolving door of instruments from week to week. And I don't mind that question, really.

Unless Kathy Jo is standing there.

Then she always repeats the question, only with more urgency, "Yes, how many guitars DO YOU have?" It's no longer a casual question, it's an interrogation!

Now, to be fair, she has to live with my, uh, G.A.S. illness, so I don't blame her for asking...with that tone. many guitars do I have? A few. Um okay, a few more than that. More than I need. Probably even a few more than that. Let me explain (here comes my twisted rationale!):

I got into building guitars because I play left-handed. Playing guitar left-handed (or "backwards") can be a curse when you're looking for a good instrument, or an instrument with particular options, beccause most guitar manufacturers don't offer much for us lefties: a few beginner instruments, and a couple generic ones from their better lines - IF we're lucky.

So, in around 1995, I decided I wanted something specific in an electric guitar, and of course, it just didn't exist in left-handed configuration. So I decided to try building my own. Not from scratch (I didn't have the tools necessary, and also didn't have the skills from some of the intricate work, like fretting a neck), but from premanufactured parts.

So more than a few of my guitars are "guitar projects." They're guitars that I've built out of parts: necks bodies, pickups, tuners, etc. Over the past 15 years or so, this has become as much of a hobby and interest to me as playing guitar has been for over twice that long (started playing when I was 13, I'm 51 now...).

And the guitars I build are always changing, morphing, getting modded ... changing pickups, or swapping necks on a couple guitars, just to try something different. It's almost as much fun to have a screwdriver in my grip as a guitar pick! Change a neck, and presto! A NEW guitar! (So sometimes what you see on Sunday morning is not something new, but version III or IV of an instrument...)

And there's always another idea for a new build on the every once in a while another 'project' is born!

Most of the parts I use come from a company in Puyallup, Washington; Warmoth Guitar Parts. They make excellent necks and bodies, and most everything is available for lefties like me. In the photo at the begining of this post are my current Warmoth guitars.

Another company that offers parts and kits as well as their own line of guitars is Carvin Corporation, in San Diego, California. They also get my business because they are very lefty-friendly, and the owners of the company are Christians. In every catalog, they have this quote:

"Make a joyful noise unto the Lord, all the earth;
make a loud noise and rejoice and sing praise!
Sing to the Lord with the harp and the voice of the psalm."
--Psalm 98:4-5

Another interesting thing about Carvin's founder, Lowell Kiesel (d. 12-29-2009), is that he grew up on a farm near Gothenburg, Nebraska! Small world!

As I said, Carvin offers both kits and completed instruments, and I have some of each (I'll let you try to figure out which is which!):

Guitar acquisition syndrome.

Not so much a disease as a passion. Because every guitar is an experiment...part of the quest for
"that" sound or look, or ease of playing.

And it's the opportunity to "make music" - being a part of that creative process that is one of God's gifts to us - from the very beginning, starting with some wood, wire and a few tools.

Stay connected...

Pastor Mike

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

What I Learned in Japan

In July I traveled to Japan with my youngest daughter, Jill, to see her sister, my oldest daughter, Annie. (Here we are in Hiroshima, at the Peace Memorial Park; me, Annie & Jill.)I haven't traveled overseas since I was a 'military brat' and lived outside Madrid, Spain for four years (1970-74).

So it was interesting to visit another culture again, and it was much more interesting, even fruitful, to travel around with our daughter, Annie, who has lived there for a year (she is teaching English in three elementary schools). We definitely got a much better 'taste' of the culture because Annie was our tour guide!
(Thank you, Annie, for being such a wonderful host! You've learned so much and you've already made a lot of progress with the Japanese language!)

Visiting another culture always has some 'shock value' if our eyes are open, and I'm going to share a few rambling observations about differences between Japan's culture and ours.

First of all, Japan is both very 'eastern / traditional' and very 'western / modern.' They have managed to synthesize their culture and values with modern technology fairly successfully...for the most part; I'll say a little more about that later.

Second, because Japan is a very densely populated nation - 130 million people sharing a thin land mass about the length of our east coast - they don't waste real estate the way we do - trying to grow nice green yards of grass that only create unnecessary labor and expense, but nothing of any real value (okay, except for some unquantifiable amount of 'property value').

No, the Japanese people use the land around their homes to plant gardens...rice (if they have enough flat land for it), grapes, vegetables, fruits (grapes and peaches are abundant where Annie lives); anyone who lives outside of the large cities and has a little patch of yard is a farmer of sorts.

Also, because Japan is densely populated, and people are literally almost on top of each other, they have to get along with each other. People everywhere were polite, and they are careful not to make waves or do things that would disturb those around them...for this reason alone, I'm convinced the Japanese invented headphones! People everywhere have their Ipods - with headphones - on; I didn't see any boom boxes or hear loud, obnoxious music in public.

On the bus from Tokyo to Hiroshima (which we rode all night!) after our first stop, around 10:30 p.m., it was lights out: curtains closed, no talking, and everyone slept. Again, a few had on their Ipod/headset, but no one seemed to be trying to read with a book light on or anything; that would not be polite.

Fourth, looking around at the size of the typical Japanese person, I realized - I am big. Not just tall; I saw some Japanese men taller than, I mean BIG. Heavy. Gravitationally challenged. A chub. Mister Blimp. Godzilla without the teeth, scales and tail. I finally got used to this and stopped thinking about it - until I arrived at the airport in Tokyo (Narita) for my flight home, when I started seeing other Americans again. Big Americans, heavy get the idea. It was embarrassing...

The Japanese diet is very different from ours, as is their lifestyle. They do a LOT of walking and bike riding, even though there are an abundance of cars in Japan (nice cars, too). They climb lots of stairs (and escalators - many Japanese don't 'ride' escalators, they walk up and down escalators; you stay to the left so they can pass you on the right) on their way to the trains and subways. They climb stairs even to get to McDonalds...everything in Japan is built 'up' so even a McDonalds has three floors; you order on one floor and go upstairs to level two or three to sit down and eat.

So, yes of course, they've been invaded by McDonald's and other western fare (we also ate at Subway and even Shakey's Pizza while we were there!), but their traditional diet consists of lots of rice - also fruits, vegetables, fish, pork, soy products (tofu and sweet bean spreads) and some breads and pastries (the Japanese have their own way of doing pizza - even at Shakey's!).

And our diet? Our American diet consists of way too much soybean and soybean/products and corn/corn products, including high fructose corn syrup and lots of foods fried in corn oil (not to mention all our corn-fed beef, chicken and pork!). And way too few fruits and vegetables. I'll blog about this more later, but I'll just mention one informative and eye-opening book about our diet, by Michael Pollan, In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto (Pengiun Press, 2008). Ironically, I happened to take this book with me to Japan, and was convicted of the need for a drastic overhaul of my eating habits, which I'm working on. But I'm still big...way too big...

Fifth (I think we're on fifth!), I discovered how jaded I am in my view of other human beings, particularly other races and nationalities. When we first started walking the streets and riding the subways of Tokyo, all the Japanese people looked alike to me...just a massive blur of people with a darker complexion than mine, brown eyes and black hair.

But after about two days, I noticed something. Like Paul the apostle after his road to Damascus experience of blindness - it was as though scales fell off my eyes, and I saw the amazing richness and variety of the Japanese people! Everyone different, every one an individual, every person exhibiting their own mannerisms and habits and personality - extroverts, introverts, some smiling, some serious, everything, everyone.

I don't know how to say anything more about this without sounding like a shallow American tourist, but that's what I was. God helped me to see the uniqueness and God-image (imago dei) in every Japanese person, and they are truly a beautiful people.

After 10 days in Japan, I understand the love my daughter Annie has for these people and their nation and culture, and the deep desire and calling she feels to serve Christ there and reach out to them with the gospel.
I need to add that it was a humbling experience, being reminded that we Americans (we Yanks) can learn so much from others, and the Japanese people have certainly been good stewards of their natural resources and their people resources in growing an amazing economy that has given the world many wonderful new technologies, while reminding us that some 'old ways' are worth keeping and sustaining.


Yes, they are an amazing people who have assimilated much of our western technology and values while maintaining their rich, traditional culture...for the most part. But there is also darkness among these beautiful people: they do not have the hope of Christ. Many of them struggle in a very competitive society; competitive schools, universities, and professions. Japan has a very high suicide rate; and it has gone even higher in the past few years with their bad economy (about a decade ahead of our recent downturn).

For whatever reason, the Japanese people have been very resistant to the gospel. The most recent statistic I've read is that about 9% of the Japanese people are Christians - and this is actually much higher than I thought ( I remember it being 2-4% Christian), so the gospel is gaining ground!

Join me in praying for them to be able to hear and receive the gospel message. Pray for persons like Annie, and those in her church (and other churches) that are reaching out to the Japanese people with the love of Christ. They are hungry for this love in a culture that does not outwardly demonstrate love and acceptance, even though they are certainly polite and gracious. May God's grace make them truly gracious, and change the hearts of these amazing people!

Stay connected...

Pastor Mike

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

What is God's Name?

After last Sunday's sermon, "WHY (the idea of) GOD?" someone texted me the following excellent question:
"Does it matter what we call God? If we believe in a power greater than ourselves that defines good and evil must we call him God?"

Great question! I simply could not do this question justice in a minute or two at the end of my sermon.

Does it matter what we call God? Does "God" have a proper name? First, I would make this observation: If there is a God, then God must have certain attributes, certain qualities or we would say God has an identity and personality, extending from "personhood" (in a divine or otherworldly sense, if you will, but beyond human personhood).

What we can know about God must be deduced from looking at the world he has made (please excuse my use of the male gender for God in these posts, it's simply easier than switching back and forth or constantly avoiding the use of pronouns - it becomes awkward to always write "God" rather than he, him, his, etc. I am not making the assumption that God is male versus female; that's a theological discussion for a different post!).

God has made an intelligent, orderly, beautiful, useful world in which we live, and yet we could also say that God has made some things we don't fully appreciate, like wasps, sharks, flys, germs, tornadoes, etc. But even though we may not appreciate them, through observatioin we learn that many of them have a place in the world, contributing somehow to the balance and rhythm of nature.

From looking at this evidence, we would deduce that God is intelligent, rational, caring (he has provided food and many other resources for our use), and orderly. None of this tells us God's name, but it tells us a great deal about God.

But does this God have a proper name? If God does have a proper name, then he would have to reveal it to us somehow...because all of this evidence around us still does not tell us a proper name for God. It's not written in the heavens, it's not carved into a tree...God will have to reveal his name to us if we are to know what to call him.
Most of the world's religions claim to reveal who God is, and many have particular names for God. As Christians we don't have a particular name for God, although in the Old Testament, which is part of our scriptures, God revealed himself to Moses as, "I Am that I Am." One of the Hebrew names for God, the holy, unspoken name of God, consists of the consonants, "YHWH," which scholars pronounce, "Yahweh."

Which leads into the topic for next Sunday's message, "WHY (believe in) JESUS?" Because of the teachings of Jesus, I believe God can be known to us. Speaking about God, Jesus called God "Father." And about God the Father, Jesus said, "If you know me, you will know my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him" (John 14:7).

Jesus then responds to a question by one of his disciples, Philip, by explaining that he (Jesus) is a reflection of who God is: "Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me..." (Jn. 14: 11). Often in his teachings, Jesus made the claim that he was from God, and that his purpose was to reveal God to us.

So we have to make a decision based on the information in the Bible; the teachings of Jesus, the other teachings in the Bible:

Does Jesus actually and accurately reveal God to us? Can God be known through Jesus? What evidence do we have to make this claim, or to believe this?

And that is what I will be talking about this Sunday, September 20!

Stay connected...

Pastor Mike