Sunday, May 29, 2005

Satan on Ice

Devil against drugs

If you click this picture you'll se that Satan is working for the drug-prevention organization called D.A.R.E. . Who knew the prince of darkness was so against drugs? This is not as surprising as it might sound. As a substance abuse counselor, I'm aware of statistics that show D.A.R.E., as well intentioned as it might be, seems to do nothing more than pique kids' interest in drugs. Ah, the road to Hell IS paved with good intentions.

Satan posing as a benevolent advisor is hardly new. Reminds me of one of my all time favorite movie lines: In "The Usual Suspects," the narrator says that "Satan's greatest trick is making people believe he doesn't exist."

As a hockey fan, I've always been kind of bummed out at the New Jersey Devil's choice of team name. O.K, I know it's just a name, but apparently, my concern is shared by NJ State Assemblyman Craig Stanley. Here's the article discussing the whole debate.

Thursday, May 26, 2005

God's Gray Matter/s

psalm 139

Before I started reading the Bible, I had real difficulty imagining a God that payed much attention to me. After all, with, what, almost 6.5 BILLION people on the planet, He's going to have time to consider little old me? I suspected that, if anything, God might have some magical hard-drive of all my activities to consult on the rare occassions He wanted to check up on me.
I suspect my difficulty involved my inability to conceive of any thought power beyond my own abilities. For me, trying to remember the birthdays of my own loved ones was a challenge.

The beginnings of my newfound appreciation for the omniscience of God involved a chess match I was slaughtered at. Not only was I quickly and decisively trounced by my opponent, the guy whipped me while doling out the same punishment to about 40 simultaneous victims. He was a chess whiz, making money by plying his trade at shopping malls across the nation. He would set up 40 chess boards in a large rectangle of tables. Opponents could seat themselves as they pleased, and the wizard would walk around the inside of the tables, playing each game to it's conclusion, one move at a time. "Round and 'round the chessmaster goes, how he keeps winning, nobody knows" would have been a fitting slogan.

Even though getting beaten by this guy was humbling, it did teach me that some beings can handle much more data than I can.

Now I enjoy the game of chess, but I've quickly learned that my talent does not match my enthusiasm. Here was a guy that was so many LEAGUES beyond me, we probably don't even see the chessboard the same way. And yet, this chessmaster was making a living doing glorified parlor tricks. How about the mind of a Bobby Fisher, or Kasparov, or even Deep Blue, the IBM computer that took on the world's best humans? How many separate games could those brains juggle at once? Impressed yet?

How about the One that created the minds (and every other part, for that matter) of the Bobby Fishers of the world? What kind of power has created every genious that has ever lived? Oh, and let's not forget to add that this same God created innumerable other living creatures, plants, rock formations, forests, plains, oceans, planets, stars, galaxies, and everything in them. Impressed yet?

How about the God that makes all these things work together in harmony? The God that devised food chains, hierarchies, and inter-locking systems that could not work independently? The God that uses each of his creations for multiple functions. Stunned yet?
Once I believe that One God created all, it's really no problem seeing that this God has enough mental resources to observe each human being simultaneously. I no longer need to think that God has to "catch up" with my activities when he wants to consider me. He has known my every move before I started making it.

My pastor's most recent sermon expounded on something that makes all this even richer. Not only CAN God keep track of me if He wants to, He DOES WANT TO. God doesn't merely reserve Thursday night's at 7:53 for His "what's Tom up to this week?" time. He thinks about me (and YOU) CONSTANTLY! Thanks to my pastor for this message. My concept of God and his mental power is forever expanded.

The icing on this whole cake? God's thoughts are not of the "Wow, is Tom ever messing up this week" variety. God is not shaking His head in constant sadness, muttering to himself: "Why did I ever save this guy?" He is lovingly planning the next step for my advancement in Christ-like thought.

But hey, don't take my word for it. As much as I trust my pastors, don't even take their word for it. Take the Word's word for it. Go to Psalm 139, and read for yourself:

Psalm 139

O LORD, you have searched me and you know
You know when I sit and when I rise;
you perceive my thoughts from afar.
You discern my going out and my lying down;
you are familiar with all my ways.
Before a word is on my tongue
you know it completely, O LORD...........

Sunday, May 22, 2005

Crazy Paul, et al

It's well-known by those in the mental health field that many of the "delusions, compulsions, and obsessions" experienced by people with schizophrenia (and other mental health "diagnoses") have a spiritual flavor to them. I'm a strict substance abuse counselor now (if there is any such thing), but in my former years as a mental health worker, I've seen fights nearly break out between clients over which one of them was the "real" Jesus.

On a more positive note, I've often heard PROFOUND spiritual things uttered by those whom society would label as "needing stronger meds." In these situations, I'm silently humbled by the "truths" coming out of the person I'm supposedly there to help. One is left mumbling under one's clinical breath: "One of us is being shown a lesson here today, and by God, it's not me."

The question of "are some flavors of mental disturbance a case of being more attuned to something spiritual?" is a far bigger topic than I can do justice to in a short post. However, THIS article by John Piper is a great reminder that God has/can/ and probably will, use "colourful" folk (I don't mean skin colour) in his plans. The article is about a guy who single-handedly wrote one of the first Bible concordances, but demonstrated some pretty bizarre behavior all the meanwhile.

In the book of Acts 26:24-29, the apostle Paul was on trial for his beliefs in Christ, and was accused of being crazy. Festus thought Paul had had his head buried in the Old Testament for too long, and was getting some kind of academic burnout:

24 Suddenly, Festus shouted, "Paul, you are insane. Too much study has made you
25 But Paul replied, "I am not insane, Most Excellent Festus. I am
speaking the sober truth. 26 And King Agrippa knows about these things. I speak
frankly, for I am sure these events are all familiar to him, for they were not
done in a corner! 27 King Agrippa, do you believe the prophets? I know you do -
" 28 Agrippa interrupted him. "Do you think you can make me a Christian so
29 Paul replied, "Whether quickly or not, I pray to God that both
you and everyone here in this audience might become the same as I am, except for
these chains."

Regardless of your current state of mental health, may you too come to an "insane" understanding and love of the Gospel! Oh, and enjoy the article ...

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Onion God

God is reading this. Maybe that sounds cocky, but I don't mean it that way. Let me tell you how I know.
A few posts back, I wrote about how God seems to iron out the imperfections in our musical worship team. The point of my post was about remembering the reason we are worshipping (not about OUR glory), and leaning on God to help us overcome our human imperfections in worship.
The VERY next worship team I attended after posting that article was very difficult for me. I couldn't seem to get ANYTHING right. It was as if God was saying: "So, Tom, you think you've got a grasp of how I work, do you? You've understood this aspect of me enough to post it on your blog, huh? Well guess what Tom, you haven't BEGUN to see how deep this issue can go. But since you're atuned to the topic, let me give you the opportunity to practice what you preach!"
When I shared this with the other members of the worship team, they informed me that God OFTEN works that way in their lives. That is, just when you think you've mastered something, and got it all figured out, our Maker leaps in to notch the whole struggle up, and lovingly remind us how far we've got to go in our spiritual development.
I was excited to learn from my fellow Christians (all of whom have been walking in Faith for longer than I have), that this experience is common. Here was a new revelation of how God works!
Of course, I could take this revelation, and foolishly think I'm getting close to figuring out God and his ways. How many times have I been reminded not to "put God in a box?"
No, if I've learned anything of our God's methods, it's that HE seems to abhore predictability. Sometimes I think (and I know I'm not alone in this thought) that God will deliberately move in the exact opposite way of how any human would do it - just to remind us of the immense gulf between His way... and our ways - between the Creator... and the creation.
As for me, I feel that God doubly blessed me. Not only did He pull me further in to learning to lean on him, he gave me a new clue as to how to listen to Him. Of course, He may use a completely different method tomorrow, but right now, I THINK I've learned to be on the lookout for what happens right after I think I understand something. When I think I've peeled off the last layer on the onion of understanding, He is ready to show me the deeper layers.
I'll tell you one thing, I'm going to be careful of what I decide to post on this blog! I might think I've got something to share, but the heavenly reader might be more concerned with the guy at the keyboard. Or maybe, He will touch a reader and the writer simultaneously. Tell me, fellow Christians, does God ever work on more than one level at once? Maybe the better question is: Does he ever not?

Saturday, May 14, 2005

What, No Explosions?

This is a long read, but highly worth it. It's not my writing. If you are not accustomed to reading much, and prefer to be blown away by an intense action movie, slammin' concert, nail-biting sports event, or reality TV that "pushes the envelope," this will be a snooze-fest. Unfortunately, you're the kind of person who NEEDS to read it the most.
I'm not saying I don't enjoy the pleasures listed in this article, but it's a matter of degree. If I've made any progress in this regard, it's the fact that I would rather read this article now, rather than automatically wait for the big-screen HD version, complete with car chases, explosions galore, and a femme fatal. It's Saturday night as I write this. It's tempting to put on a movie now that the kids are asleep. Instead, I think I'll mediate on Psalm 46:10

"Be still, and know that I am God"

Here's the article, or, if you'd prefer to read it on it's own page:

Still Bored in a Culture of Entertainment

By Dr. Richard Winter
Rediscovering Passion and Wonder

Let your imagination wander for a moment. You have an evening free: nothing to do, no responsibilities for other people. I wonder what your first thought is. A movie? A video or two? Imagine what it would be like to have none of the movies, TV programs, sporting events, web sites, theme parks, or radio shows that are available to modern people in developed countries.
We find it hard to conceive of such an existence; in fact, some would find it frightening. What would we do with ourselves? How would we survive the famine of entertainment? I suppose a major power failure could give us a taste of what it would be like. What did previous generations do with themselves?
In one weekend, my city of St. Louis can offer baseball and football excitement (at the right time of year), multiple concerts, movies in cinemas and on video, plays and art exhibits, and a plethora of TV channels to watch at home. How could anyone be bored in this culture of entertainment? It seems almost impossible. And yet, paradoxically, a recent annual study of the opinions of consumers revealed a boredom boom. This survey found that most people desired more novelty in their lives.
The Disease of Our Time
We are bored, despite living in remarkable times. Just as a drug user develops a tolerance and needs larger doses to achieve the same effect, so we too have developed a tolerance to amazing events and, perhaps, to entertainment. Reader’s Digest highlighted this in an article called “How to cope with boredom.” It says, “Despite its extraordinary variety of diversions and resources, its frenzy for spectacles, and its feverish pursuit of entertainment, America is bored. The abundance of efforts made in the United States to counter boredom have defeated themselves and boredom has become the disease of our time.”
This is not only true for the United States. In Britain, a recent article in a major national newspaper reported the Archbishop of Canterbury saying, “We are a deeply and dangerously bored society and we are reluctant to look for the root of that. What has happened to us?” He asks, “Why are we so bored?”
More Leisure Time
Since the mid-1800s, for many people both lifespan and leisure time have increased enormously. People in the mid-1800s worked seventy hours a week and lived forty years. Now in developed countries people can work forty hours a week and live seventy years or more. One author calculates that this gives the average person about 33,000 more leisure hours than a person might have had in the mid-1800s.
Not only that, but the type of leisure activities that people engage in today has changed. Much time is spent alone in front of electronic entertainment. Previously the time would often be spent with family: making music, telling stories, and socializing with friends and the local community. In conjunction with this, “alone time” has also risen as people have moved out of smaller rural communities to the industrialized cities, where anonymity is easily achieved.
Now, when we come home, rarely do we get together to make music or play games. We do not need our neighbors anymore. No longer do we sit out on the porch (air conditioning has contributed to that, too) and talk to neighbors. We go inside, shut the door, and go to our private entertainment places.
Entertained to Excess
Boredom is easily recognized when there is nothing to do. But what about this idea that too much entertainment gives rise to boredom? Not only do we have entertainment and information thrown at us all the time in our homes, but also something is trying to keep us entertained almost everywhere we go. Long lines at amusement parks now come with overhead TVs to help pass the time. Airlines show movies. Cars include radios, CD players, and now DVD players. And when I stopped at one gas station, I was amazed to find a small video screen at each pump, just to make sure that I would not get bored for the few minutes it took to refuel!
When stimulation comes from every side, we reach a point of being unable to react with much depth to anything anymore. The boredom we feel today is probably as likely, perhaps more likely, to come from overload than underload.
Over-stimulation is felt most in relation to entertainment and advertising industries. Instead of making our own entertainment, we rely on radio, TV, movies, video games, surfing the web, and so on. Now I am not saying these things are intrinsically bad. The problem comes when we come to depend on them too much. Today, it is no longer necessary to put work into being entertained. A person can be a “couch potato” and let it all happen. Neil Gablar’s book Life: The Movie, How Entertainment Conquered Reality shows how today everything has to be exciting to grab our attention. Entertainment becomes the primary measure of value. The media create expectations for us so that ordinary life becomes increasingly boring and we grow more dissatisfied. Like drug addicts, we want a bigger fix next time.
Additionally, to the contemporary mind, goodness and beauty often seem boring and unstimulating. They do not give the same adrenaline or testosterone rush that violence and sex do. Abnormal behavior is put on display to engage us, as in TV programs like the Jerry Springer show.
And thinking of extremes, there is a huge and growing interest in extreme sports. In Outside Magazine, one professional skydiver and skysurfer is quoted as saying, “It’s only when my body is screaming towards earth that I feel most truly alive."
Those of us who do not hunger for such extreme stimulation can still find plenty of entertainment in the endless shopping malls, restaurants, fitness clubs, bookstores, tennis clubs, golf courses, concerts, movies theaters, and late night Letterman and Leno.
Now, what does all this do to us? I would suggest to you that being surrounded by and taking in all this entertainment stunts our imaginations and our creative capacities. And it shrivels our own inner resources to make and find entertainment. It is much like not using our muscles anymore; eventually we do not know how to use the muscles of the imagination. As the inner resources shrivel up, we need more and more stimulation from the outside, a bigger and bigger fix, to get the same entertainment and sense of stimulation.
Advertised to Apathy
Not only is our society bombarded with countless entertainment options, we are also met daily by messages from the advertising industry that are designed to make us dissatisfied and bored with what we have and who we are. Perhaps some in our society have become so chronically disappointed by false advertising promises that they have shut down their deepest longings and desires and become apathetic and bored.
Fragmentation of Faith
Patricia Spacks, reflecting on the apparent increase in boredom in the last three hundred years, believes that one of the possible reasons is the decline of orthodox Christianity. Spacks, who does not evidence any particular Christian outlook in the book, says, “The history of commentary on boredom shows a steady decline in faith.” The suggestion is that as Christian faith declines, boredom increases. In the past, the Christian view of life gave a motive to endure struggle and difficulty and boredom in life. Contentment was preached as an important virtue. People felt responsible to work hard, to take an interest in and get involved with life, especially with their family and wider social responsibilities. So boredom was seen either as a sin, or as a sign of moral weakness or character failure.
If there is no God out there to give you a sense of purpose and direction in life, how are you to find meaning and happiness? Spacks suggests that boredom is a metaphor for the postmodern condition. Behind the bright lights, optimism, and busyness of our culture lurks haunting questions that many want to ignore. The heavy topics of “what’s the purpose of life?” and “why am I here on this planet” tend to be conversation killers in most situations. Sports, sex, relationships, work, the latest soap opera, television show or movie are much more acceptable.
In the Bible, the writer of the book of Ecclesiastes describes how he tried to find satisfaction in every possible form of activity: work, wealth, pleasure, gardens, and (many) beautiful women. And instead he ended up with a sense of emptiness that is a lot like the description of boredom: “I denied myself nothing my eyes desired. I refused my heart no pleasure. My heart took delight in all my work and this was the reward for my labor. Yet when I had surveyed all that my hands had done and what I had toiled to achieve, everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind. Nothing was gained under the sun.” (Eccl. 2:10,11)
Counteracting Boredom
Obviously some things in life are boring. In a fallen world, some tasks are inherently tedious and dull, but how we approach them is crucial. Boredom can be a healthy stimulus to action and a challenge to use our creativity. And to face the most monotonous parts of life we must remember the big picture that gives meaning to the little things. When I am repairing the lawnmower for the sixth time and mowing the grass for the sixteenth time that season, I have to remember that this all contributes to creating a place of beauty in my garden, a place that people can enjoy. Part of what God has set us in the world to do is to create lovely places where we can relax with others and enjoy true leisure. It is important to think of the big picture when washing the dishes and to ask where this fits in with the whole of life and marriage and having families and so on.
We need to grow in delighting in the simple and the ordinary—to, as we say, stop and smell the roses. This is where the busyness and dependence on constant entertainment prevents us from cultivating true wonder at the ordinary things of life. Mary Pipher writes, “Most real life is rather quiet and routine. Most pleasures are small pleasures: a hot shower, a sunset, a bowl of good soup, a good book. Television suggests that life is high drama, love and sex . . . .Activities such as housework, fundraising, and teaching children to read are vastly underreported. Instead of ennobling our ordinary experiences, television suggests that they are not of sufficient interest to document.”
Is God sitting back and feeling bored with his creation? From all that we read in the Scriptures, He feels deeply and passionately about all that He has made. There is a rhythm and order to the creation, a repetition of grand themes in the cycles of nature. The Bible tells us of a God who enjoys beauty and glory in what He has made, and wants us to do that too. And yet He is a God, also, who grieves over the ugliness of sin and the brokenness in His creation. He wants us to develop our gifts, but He also wants us to work hard, redemptively, against the evil and the brokenness of our culture and our world. We are to reflect the image of God and how He has made us, both in how we enjoy His creation, but also in how we fight against evil.
It was Edmond Burke who said, many years ago, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” Resignation, apathy, and boredom invade when we feel hopeless and helpless. With such an attitude there is no desire to create a place of beauty out of ugliness, a place of order out of chaos. But if we catch a glimpse of the bigger picture, where our story fits with His, then we are motivated to action. Engagement is not a comfortable path, but neither is it a boring interstate that bypasses life. The test of our spirituality is not in our best clothes, nor in our religious settings, but in our response to the everyday and the unavoidable. The test is in our ability to bring good out of hardship and joy out of the mundane. When we begin to grasp the real nature of the struggle of this life, the drama sharpens and the details take on extraordinary significance.
So why get up in the morning? Bilbo Baggins, a now wonderfully famous character created by J.R.R. Tolkien, could have stayed at home with his little comfortable house and his garden(s). The Bagginses were, after all, very respectable. They never had any adventures or did anything unexpected. But when Gandalf came to call on that memorable day, Bilbo sensed that more was at stake. He was needed in the great battle between good and evil. He faced many dangers and challenges, but his life was certainly never so boring as it might have been if he had stayed at home. And my thesis is that we have all, to some degree, lost sight of that for which we have been made. Oftentimes we cannot see the drama of the bigger picture of life where so much is at stake. We are called to an adventure of living, which may have its profoundly boring and frustrating moments, but which gives meaning to a life in which every situation has significance.
Ultimately, then, we are faced with a choice. We can choose to surf the channels, the web, the waves in order to satisfy our thirst for something more to relieve our boredom. Or we can choose to respond to the call to love and to serve God, who promises partly now and completely in the future to satisfy our pangs of hunger and quench our deepest thirst for meaning and significance. He is the One who gives us a reason to delight in His world and a passion for living and who helps us patiently to endure the inevitable moments of frustration and boredom. And as we live in a relationship with Him, and in the light of what He has told us about the world, our perspective on the often difficult and boring things of life is little by little transformed.

Dr. Richard Winter serves as Professor of Practical Theology for Covenant Theological Seminary. His most recent book is titled, Still Bored in a Culture of Entertainment, Rediscovering Passion and Wonder (Intervarsity Press). This article is based on a lecture that he gave for the seminary’s Francis Schaeffer Institute.

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Itching For God - My Testimony

I was "saved" on the internet. Here's the breakdown:
One day, I woke up with very itchy hands and feet. It was annoying, but not yet overbearing. I went to work, but by noon, I couldn't stop itching my hands. I knew something was wrong, so I finally left work. I could barely drive home, because I had to switch hands on the steering wheel to alternate which hand would scratch the other. I got on the phone, and my doctor told me to get to the ER, since I was having an allergic reaction that could kill me.
The doctors never did fully diagnose what had happened, but in all probability, it was an allergic reaction between two medications I'd been taking.
The problem has never returned, but in the midst of my burning and itching, I wondered if there was some kind of spiritual significance to it all. Hadn't I heard somewhere that an itchy palm meant money was about to come your way? I liked money as much as the next guy, but realized that I wouldn't be able to enjoy spending it in this condition, since all my time had to be spent SCRATCHING!
The itching finally went away, but I was still curious, so I fired up my search engine, and punched in "the spiritual significance of itching."
No one particular site yielded anything special about itching, but as you might guess, there were some Christian sites that came up. At that point in my life, I was a lapsed Catholic, who still believed there was "some kind of power out there in the universe," but I was not at all convinced it was the God of the Bible. Of course, the whole Jesus thing went along with that Bible perspective, so I labelled myself "agnostic" in regards to the Son.
I was amazed at all the websites about Christianity. The last time I'd sincerely attended church, nobody had even heard of the internet. Now, in the privacy of my own basement, I could read as much as I wanted about Christianity, from every possible perspective. I suppose I could have gone to the library to look into such matters, but the internet offered a wealth of easily accessed information. Not only that, there was nobody pressuring me to come to a conclusion.
With that freedom to explore on my own terms, I decided to take a close look at this Jesus guy.
Here's a quick snapshot of where I was spiritually at this point: Somewhere in my late teens, I'd decided that there were probably many forms of truth - Christianity being only one of the paths to enlightenment. My spiritual journey throughout early adulthood had consisted of the 12 steps of recovery programs (I was a substance abuse counselor), a cursory look at Buddhism, and a light fascination with the teachings of Deepak Chopra. My favorite author, Tom Robbins, kept me entertained with his amazing command of word wizardry. His books reinforced my belief that spiritual truths could be found in many religious traditions, or in none at all. I would laugh all the way through his novels, delighted that someone else felt that spiritual depth could be found in sex, drugs, rock & roll, and overall wackiness.
Against that backdrop, I started reading about Jesus through numerous websites. I even dusted off my Bible, and read bits and pieces. Unfortunately, most of it was hard to understand.
Finally, I stumbled upon this website called They had an online movie called God's Story (watch it here). It's a visual outline of God's gradual revelations of himself from before creation, through our present age.
The movie got to the part where John the Baptist is at the Jordan river. He sees Jesus coming toward him, and they embrace each other, in joyful recognition. As I was watching, I felt the joy emanating from these two men. John's joy at being in the very presence of "the lamb that takes away the sins of the world," and Jesus' joy at seeing John's understanding of who Jesus was. This scene of two men hugging, one God, and one his creation, told me everything I needed to know about Jesus. The pure love expressed in their embrace symbolized the relationship between God and man. Right then, I knew in my heart that I was seeing Truth. I was witnessing LOVE. I was looking at a picture of how much God loves me, and how much joy I would know if I only accepted that love, and returned it.
That's when the Holy Spirit touched me, and lead me to Truth. No one was around to express it to right away, but a few days later, I got to share the news with my brother-in-law. I'd already said the sinner's prayer, but I don't think I really understood the magnitude of the decision I'd made until I shared it. Indeed, until I confessed my decision pubicly, I'm not sure how much it meant. I don't want to get in to a theological quandry over what one must do to be "saved," but Romans 10: 9-11 states:

That if you confess with your mouth, "Jesus is Lord," and believe in your heart
that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart
that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess
and are saved. As the Scripture says, "Anyone who trusts in him will never be
put to shame."

I remember telling him something like: "Well Dave, I'm not sure of the words to use, but I guess I'm uh....saved!"
As a fellow Christian, he was delighted about the decision I'd made. He told me that a legion of angels were dancing in celebration of my Salvation (Luke 15:10)! We talked for a very long time, and I can't remember all the details. It didn't matter though. What mattered was that I was a brand new creation. My brother-in-law was now my brother in a much grander way. He was my brother in Christ, forever!
Life has changed much for me since the day I asked Jesus to come into my heart. I found a great Church, I attend a weekly men's Bible study, I try and read my Bible every day, and I pray constantly. I've learned that there is no end to the "layers" of depth in my walk with God. I've learned that I was not perfected at the point of Salvation, but Jesus has put me on that path.
I've learned that God uses a countless variety of methods to draw people to him through his Son. He used the internet to snare me - Thank God!
The only thing that all his methods have in common is that the receiver must ACCEPT the gift he offers. The Bible tells us that God will attempt to call us to him, but he will not force us to respond. Is it possible God has lead you to my testimony today? Are you facing the greatest opportunity of your existence as you read this? Only God knows. Why don't you ask him.

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Imminent Front

O.K., I'll just come out and admit it. I've read the Left Behind series, and I don't find it outlandish. While I don't think anyone would call the writing style "high art," the sophistication of the writer's style is NOT what drew me to the series. I read the book of Revelation when I was 13, and was fascinated. When I got "saved," twenty-three years later, I determined to read the entire Bible. The book of Revelation is no less fascinating to me now, and I count myself as part of the group that the book of Revelation says receives a blessing just for having read it.
Despite my fascination, I've quickly learned that this book has an amazing ability to divide people due to it's many symbols. Even amongst Christians, there is formidable debate on what it all means.
Now I'm not going to go so far as get out my huge signs and say "the end is coming by Tuesday," but I do see that many of today's events align quite nicely with the Bible's end-times prophecies. Of course, in my pre-saved days, my biggest challenge to that statement was: "Well what period of time has NOT had such elements?"
For all I know, the end of days may not happen for thousands of years. However, the more I read the Bible, AND pay attention to world events, the harder it is to ignore the signs of the times. Of course, only God himself knows the exact time of his Son's second coming, but we are encouraged to watch, and be aware of the season.
On occassion, I'll come across an article that does a good job summarizing the possibility that we are now in the era that will see the tribulation. This one (Boiling Point) by Jack Kinsella is one such article.
I would be more than happy to find that decades have passed, and this article turns out to be a false alarm. However, such a possibility would not take away from the importance of EVERYONE getting ready for Christ's return before it's too late. By getting ready, I don't mean selling all your worldly possessions, and sitting on a mountain top. Some people tried that in Paul's day, and in essence, he told them to get back to the real business of life. Getting ready means getting right with Jesus. Ask him to come in to your life today. He may not return to Earth for millions of years, but your last chance to accept Christ's love is gone when you are.
As for me, I remain excited about seeing Christ on that day. That doesn't mean that this world is unimportant, but I know it won't compare to what is to come.

Thursday, May 05, 2005

Never Forget

Today is special for three reasons. First, it's the National Day of Prayer, second, it's Cinco de Mayo, and third, today marks Holocaust Remembrance Day.
My simple prayer today is that those in authority throughout Canada, the US, and Mexico never forget the horrors of the Holocaust. Psalm 122:6 urges us to "Pray for the peace of Jerusalem." In honor of this remembrance, I'd like to share this article by Elwood McQuaid of Friends of Israel:

When Forgetting is Unforgivable

Nearly half of the
adults in Great Britain claim they have never heard of Auschwitz.

was the shocking result of a BBC audience research survey related to a new TV
series produced to mark the 60th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz
death camp.

“We were amazed by the results of our audience research,”
said series producer Laurence Rees. “It’s easy to presume that the horrors of
Auschwitz are engrained in the nation’s collective memory, but obviously this is
not the case.”

The survey found that almost half of Britain’s adults (45
percent) claim they never even heard of Auschwitz. Among people under 35, the
figure soared to 60 percent. And among those who had heard of the infamous
concentration camp, 70 percent said they did not know much about it.

revealing corollary surfaced in another survey by the History Channel, which
asked 1,000 Britons to name the most significant events in world history.
Twenty-two percent named the day Princess Diana died. Only 8 percent opted for
the end of World War II, and 12 percent cited England’s World Cup soccer victory
in 1966.

Of all the killing stations Adolf Hitler established to
facilitate his “final solution to the Jewish problem,” Auschwitz, in Poland, was
the most notorious. It is estimated that 1 million to 3 million people, about 90
percent of them Jewish, were exterminated there.

Among the most poignant
cries still echoing from this dungeon of death are the letters of the children.
Before little Liliane Gerenstein was killed, she wrote to God:

God? How
good you are, how kind and if one had to count the number of goodnesses
kindnesses ou have done, one would never finish. . . . God? It is thanks to You
I had a beautiful life before, that I was spoiled, that I had lovely
things that others do not have. God? After that, I ask you on think only: Make
my parents come back, my poor
parents protect them (even more than you
protect me) so that I can see them again as
soon as possible.

April 6, 1944, the Nazis seized Liliane Gerenstein and others; threw the crying,
terrified children onto trucks bound for Auschwitz; and there killed them all.

“The name Auschwitz is quite rightly a byword for horror,” Laurence Rees
stated. “But the problem with thinking about horror is that we naturally turn
away from it. Our series is not only about the shocking, almost unimaginable
pain of those who died, or survived, Auschwitz. It’s about how the Nazis came to
do what they did.”

On January 27, 1945, Russian troops liberated
Auschwitz, but not before the Nazis attempted to kill or deport any who might be
left to tell the dreadful story of their suffering.

How can people
barely a generation away from the events of World War II choose to know so
little? Yes, choose, because their ignorance is a choice.

It is the
choice of the educational system on both sides of the Atlantic. The West buries
the grim realities of historical atrocities beneath a gloss of contemporary
superficiality. Our obsession to pursue pleasure and venerate pop culture icons,
such as Princess Diana, rock stars, Hollywood luminaries, and sports idols, have
clouded our thinking—especially when it relates to lessons from the past that
should not be forgotten. Unfortunately, many do not want to remember and thus
are condemned to experience reruns of the horrific.

Both the Old and New
Testaments solemnly warn about the consequences of failing to communicate
history’s lessons to the next generation. These biblical injunctions are not the
mutilations of revisionist docudrama. They are fact.

The era of Hitler,
the Holocaust, and the extermination of millions of innocent Jewish people and
others is an extremely obvious example of why we must teach the truth. That 45
percent of a nation’s population can say it never heard of Auschwitz is a
dreadful commentary on how far we have fallen.

Fortunately, there are
those who do remember and burn with a desire to enshrine in the minds and hearts
of people living today the memory of those who failed to survive. Tears still
well up in the eyes of those who languished in the squalor of the camps and
watched as friends, loved ones, and neighbors wasted away or were fed to the
ovens. The desire for truth is heard in the voices of veterans, now dying at the
rate of thousands a day, who urge us to keep alive the memory of what they saw
in 1945.
To forget is unforgivable. Sixty, or perhaps only six, years from
now, how many Americans will say they never heard of September 11, 2001?

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Wait! Before you leave...

One of the first things a counselor learns is the humbling fact that, no matter how honed your skills, your style is not going to fit with all of your clients. In the case of an absolutely insurmountable clash of personalities, the counselor's ethical duty is to refer the client to another counselor.
I suspect this holds just as strongly, if not more, for the Christian witness. Therefore, if any reader does not like my blogging style, please don't throw out the baby with the bathwater. Instead, I invite you to ponder the increasingly vast array of Christian thought portrayed in a weekly thing called the "Christian Carnival." For information on how to contribute an article, or to join the mailing list, go here. If you just want to read this week's festivities, they're posted here. Happy reading!

May the 4th

Oh man, I wait ALL YEAR to be able to tell this to people. So here it is:
Of course, may it be the REAL force. If you haven't already, TURN NOW from the dark side! If you're reading this, it's not too late. For more on the true forces of the universe, check THIS out.

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

What's Your Source?

A colleague and I got to discussing Pope Benedict the other day. I was particularly interested in my colleague's impression, since he used to be a man of the cloth. My friend is no longer a priest, but, not surprisingly, he still follows matters of the Catholic Church with much interest.
Without giving a blow by blow account of his thoughts on the new Pope, I did learn that Cardinal Ratzinger, despite his recent role as the conservative "enforcer" in the RC Church, was a much more liberal writer before his duties were increased. According to my friend, Ratzinger's prior writings show him to be gifted in matters of deep, theological thought. My friend felt that it was a shame that a "theologian" of such caliber had been placed in to such a high "administrative" role. He felt that attending to such matters of practicality would lessen Ratzinger's academic/spiritual freedom to explore religious issues without bias. If I understood him correctly, his implication was that Ratzinger's liberal interpretations were squelched - not by active cencorship, put by giving him more responsibilty in "active" duty. My former priest friend feels that thinkers should be allowed to think, and administrators should be left to act.
I had no idea just how much "liberal interpretation" my colleague was advocating, until he started talking about the possibility that maybe Jesus had been married to Mary Magdalene. According to him, there is much speculation about this. Since I haven't read the DaVinci Code, I guess I'm not as "up to speed" on that issue.
Furthermore, he informed me that numerous liberal scholars believe that Jesus was the groom at the Cana wedding - the one where he performed the first miracle of turning the water to wine. Apparently, the reasoning goes like this: Jesus' mother could only have had such responsibility at this wedding if she were the groom's mother. Additionally, she would not have called on Jesus to fix the problem unless it was his responsibility - as the groom of the event.
I'll say right now that everything in my soul denies such a possibility. My feeling is that Jesus could not have attended to marital issues while becoming savior of this world. I believe that his singular mission was to do the work His Father had sent him to do. When Jesus said: "My food is to do the will of Him who sent me and to finish His work."(John 4:34-35), I don't think he planned to supplement this diet with ANY worldly snack. His mission was so focused; there was no room for earthly distractions.
Unfortunately, as much as I believe this, I was at a loss to prove it to my colleague. I kind of stammered, presented the argument above, but had no rock solid evidence to dispute that Jesus was the groom at Cana.
My first mistake was to search for extra-biblical evidence to deny the case. A google search brought me to THIS article by Hal Lindsey. Since I already like Lindsey's teachings, I forwarded it to my friend.
He did not comment on the content of the article, but instead, sent me a link back to a Wikipedia entry that questioned Lindsey's character/witness. Tempted as I was to defend Lindsey, I knew this would take us way off the point in question.
Here's where I think I finally did something right. Instead of quoting numerous others I like to read, I WENT TO THE SOURCE. That's right, I opened up my Bible, and read the passage.
In very short order, John 2:2 leapt out at me. "Now both Jesus and his disciples were INVITED to the wedding." Why would the groom need to be invited to the wedding? Would not the groom be the one doing the inviting? Furthermore, if Jesus AND his disciples were invited, and one of them was the groom, which one was it? Perhaps the bride got to choose at the last minute?
Just in case the translation I presented was questionable, I checked out numerous versions of John 2:2 from
The variations of the term "invited" included: "was bidden;" "came as guests;" and "was called". I suppose one could read these different passages, and still argue that Jesus was married at the Cana wedding, but that would seem to require more effort than I care to expend. One could doubt the accuracy of ALL these modern translations, but then one begins to doubt God's ability to preserve his Word. Finally, many will decide that scripture itself is not inspired (dictated by God through men), but merely the musings of a bunch of colluding, conspiratorial, manipulators of the masses.
Once someone doubts the Bible itself, we're in to a whole different discussion. Allow me to quote Rick Wade at Probe Ministries:
"The testimony of Scripture to its own nature finds confirmation in many areas.
Even with all this evidence, however, we aren’t going to be able to prove the
inspiration of the Bible to anyone who either isn’t interested enough to give it
serious thought or to the critic who only wants to argue. But we can share its
message, make attempts at gentle persuasion and answer questions as we wait for
the Spirit to open the person’s mind and heart."
So today, I'm thanking Jesus today for two things. First, for not allowing himself to be distracted from his mission to save me. Second, for his nudge to me to turn first to his Word, before any other source. The Word is, after all:
"inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for
training in righteousness."
2 Timothy 3:16