Sunday, October 14, 2007

The Word

Wow. My goal with this blog was to write at least once a week, maybe every other week if I got busy. But that was assuming I would have something interesting to say. I am determined not to write just for the sake of seeing me write - there's enough drivel on the net these days without adding mine.

Anyway, on to the subject at hand. If you've read this blog or my personal web page you probably know I am a big fan of Bible software. I love to try them out, test them, and see what's new. I currently am using WORDSearch and Logos, two very fine packages. The smaller packages on the market actually seem to have better interfaces, but cannot match the available library and resources, nor do they usually offer many contemporary versions, as publishers don't usually work with the minnows in the pond.

But, I have to tell you about one such minnow - The Word. Someone who had read one of my Bible software overviews pointed out this package to me. I almost ignored it due to time constraints, but I'm glad I didn't. The Word is a feat of user intelligence smarts. I am completely enamored with the product. Too many Bible software packages make you conform to their strict interface paradigm, which nine times out of ten, is not exactly how you would use the software. The Word fixes all this - the interface is your servant, to be molded and conformed to your liking, all the while maximizing your study. If you have a wide-screen monitor you can fit an amazing number of constructs on your screen in a logical and consistent manner that does not feel cluttered.

There are so many nice touches throughout the product it's difficult to even start listing them. For instance, all verse references in the search results are colored either red or green, depending on whether the verse is in the OT or the NT. This might seem odd or unnecessary, but it works very nice in practice.

The only downside is the same for all single-author Bible software products out there - lack of modern versions and resources. While the standard public domain texts are all available (KJV, Strongs, Matthew Henry, Adam Clark, ISBE, etc.), it's a shame we can't have more in order to take advantage of this wonderful product. Hopefully the author will be able to convince some of the publishers to release their versions in The Word format, but it is difficult to imagine this happening and the product remaining free (yes, that is correct, The Word is free).

The author has created an import tool that will import e-Sword modules directly into The Word. This is very nice. Unfortunately, the author of e-Sword has password-protected most of his modules, even the ones that are in public domain. However, there are many e-Sword modules out there you can find and import. Additionally, the import tool is slated to handle other formats in the future, such as ThML, the document markup language specific for all the awesome resources at Christian Classics Ethereal Library.

Anyway, I can't recommend The Word enough. But this is important - make sure you download the Version 3 Beta product instead of Version 2. While it is beta, and you will therefore notice the occasional non-working feature or bug, V3 is so far ahead of V2 that I can't recommend V2 over V3 at all.

God bless.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Pachelbel Bedtime

You know, I'm not really a huge YouTube fan (hey, let's let people slap together amateur videos and throw them on a web page and we'll sell it to Google for $1.6 Billion! Yes, I'm jealous), especially the constant requests to go watch this or that video. Some of them are worth the time, most are not. This is one of the former. As the father of four, it goes straight to the heart, made me laugh and cry at the same time. Hope you enjoyed it as much as I did.

Friday, August 3, 2007

Bible Study Software Update

Some time ago I did a quick review of all the major free or cheap Bible Software packages available. That review is available here, and while many of my conclusions still apply, a number of things have changed since then. So, I decided to give a quick overview of the packages currently on my hard drive. There are also some specials going on at the moment that are worth looking into. Read on.

WORDSearch. I highly recommend WORDSearch. From my experience it has the best combination of price, library, usability, and speed. The interface is superb. The parallel Bible view, for instance, is the nicest of all the products I have used. And I really like the company behind the product - small, but very dedicated and passionate. However, it is light on original language tools, so take that into consideration if these are important.

Libronix (Logos). Logos is currently the market-share leader, and it is easy to see why. An excellent library of books combined with some great study tools, including excellent original-language products that are pretty hard to beat.

The downsides are numerous - a relatively clunky interface, slow searches, and expensive. Even if you don't spring for one of the super-expensive base collections, individual books and Bibles are still a pretty penny. For instance the NASB Bible is $50 in Logos, but only $15 in WORDSearch. The New American Commentary set is $500, but only $220 in WORDSearch. And so on.

But, here's a tip: Nelson Publishing has revamped their eBible line (which is based on Libronix). You can get eBible Deluxe, with a great startup library for $17. Add to that the NASB Library for $26 and you have a very compelling Libronix-based package for only $43 total. Then you can expand from there with just the books you need. To get these prices, go to the Rejoice Software site, scroll down to the Libronix section and look for:
  • eBible Deluxe Edition $16.95
  • NAS Electronic Bible Library Version 2 $25.95
You can also spring for the eBible Expanded for $60. To see the comparison chart for Deluxe versus Expanded, go here.

SwordSearcher. I really like SwordSearcher. Great product. It is the fastest Bible software I have ever used. It's search capabilities are awesome. However, it is KJV-only and also has very few contemporary works. Which means I hardly ever use it anymore.

Pradis 6.0. The proprietary software from Zondervan. Version 6 is very nice - crisp and usable interface, efficient use of screen space, decent library of Zondervan books. However, I am put off by the actual linkage between books. While books stay in sync as you search and scroll, the linking does not happen at the verse level, which causes some some frustratingly wasted time as I have to read through the text of linked books to find the corresponding entry for the verse I am on.

Also, although other Bibles are available, the software is very NIV-centric, which may or may not be good for you.

In any case, if you do want to try out Pradis, you can do so very cheaply right now. The engine is free, and a $25 coupon code is available for books. This gives you a base library at an inexpensive price. In fact, if you play your cards just right, you can get a few books and/or Bibles for under $25, effectively giving yourself a full product demo for free. Go here and register an account:

Then start shopping. At checkout, enter the following coupon code in the Source Code field for $25 off: AVZCS8

If you know me you know I am not a big fan of technology, especially when it takes away tried-and-true practices that have worked for hundreds of years. But Bible software can be a huge time-saver and I would strongly recommend taking the plunge if you haven't already.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Don't Raise a Jackass

If you are under 30 (or maybe even if you’re not), you are probably familiar with the Jackass phenomenon. The MTV show where a bunch of skater punk frat boys perform dangerous and obscene stunts has become wildly popular, spawning numerous videos and two full-length movies.

I have never had the “privilege” of actually watching one of the episodes or the movie, though I have seen a couple partial clips of the more tame events on TV, and have read stories detailing some of the other stunts. And if you are like me, you probably shake your head in wonder trying to figure out just what is the attraction.

Even though I will hit the “40” milestone this year, I don’t think of myself as out-of-touch. Maybe I’m giving myself too much credit, but I like to think I’m still “with it”, and can view life through an objective lens. But this? Sorry, I just don’t understand. I asked myself all the obvious questions - Is it a need for attention? Is it the natural extension to our culture’s obsession with video voyeurism? Or is it just a bunch of idiots with no clue to what it means to be funny, twisting the light-hearted premise of Alan Funt and Candid Camera into something mean and vicious.

I had actually started to resign myself to the fact that maybe, just maybe, I was starting down the road to irrelevance, the place we get to as we grow older where, no matter how hard we try, we just don’t understand that younger generation. It was then that I read an interview with Conn Iggulden, author of the book The Dangerous Book for Boys.

The Dangerous Book for Boys is an awesome piece of work. If you have not heard of it before, go to and take a look; the video on the page is a great introduction to what is inside its wonderful pages. Basically, the book celebrates everything that it means to be a boy. It encourages boys to build go-carts, hunt rabbits, learn about famous battles and adventures, and even how to treat girls. It teaches you how to build a tree house, what you can communicate with U.S. Naval flag codes, and what things are great for making invisible ink (you don’t want to know). It is a throwback to a not-so-distant era when boys were encouraged to be boys, not emasculated to fit into some liberal educator’s notion of political correctness. If you have boys, or ever were one yourself, buy this book.

Anyway, in this interview Iggulden was asked why he thought the book was such a big hit, being a runaway best-seller in England before recently being introduced on this side of the pond. He said:

I think we've become aware that the whole "health and safety" overprotective culture isn't doing our sons any favors. Boys need to learn about risk. They need to fall off things occasionally, or --and this is the important bit -- they'll take worse risks on their own. If we do away with challenging playgrounds and cancel school trips for fear of being sued, we don't end up with safer boys, we end up with them walking on train tracks.

I think he’s right. I have a son, and though my girls like to wrestle and do “boy stuff”, he approaches life with a completely different state of mind. He wants to battle, he wants to crash, he wants to jump, and hit, and run; he wants to live on the edge. And then it hit me – with that one sentence Iggulden answered all my questions about Jackass and its popularity. It all makes sense now. See, reactionary behavior is usually going to be directly proportional to the thing against which it is reacting. So when our culture strips away everything that it means to be a boy and does not value the process of becoming a man, when we take away everything that is fun because of perceived hazards, when we raise our boys to be ultra-careful, and to avoid calculated risk, we end up with a bunch of kids who will do absolutely anything to try and create the thrill associated with living out their God-given nature because it was not cultivated properly as they grew up.

When I was in high school, my friends and I would take our motorcycles out to the gravel pits behind our subdivision and jump those bikes like there was no tomorrow. We got pretty brave, and did some crazy aerobatics on those huge mounds of dirt. Sure, there was an element of danger in what we were doing. But we were careful (mostly), wore helmets, and practiced over and over. One day my dad came out to watch us. I think even he was taken aback by what he saw. But the only thing he said to me was, Son, don’t ever let you mother see you do this.” And with that statement my dad gave me his stamp of approval. That’s what I’m talking about.

So show your boys how to use a BB gun. Teach them to play football (or soccer I guess, if you really must). Buy them an old used dirt bike. Let them balance on the top beam on their backyard playset. Celebrate their boyness. And they just might grow up to be an emotionally healthy and balanced young man instead of a jackass.


Thursday, June 28, 2007

Rich? Me?

You probably don't consider yourself rich. I know I don't. Does anybody? It's funny, most people I know, even ones who I would consider wealthy, don't think of themselves that way. Which makes reading some of Scripture much easier than it should be. Consider the first 6 verses of James 5. It starts out, "Now listen, you rich people, weep and wail because of the misery that is coming upon you." then goes downhill from there. Or take Jesus' words from Matthew 19:23 "It is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven." Passages like these should make you squirm a bit. But we conveniently assume they are talking about someone else. Certainly those passages don't apply to us, right?

See, if I focus on my bills, or my debts, or the coming college and wedding expenses, I can always make a case that we're just getting by. It's easy to forget the nice home, and all the things I own, and the 401k in the bank. Is it possible that I really am rich?

I came across the following link a while back, and it sort of jolted me into reality. I would strongly suggest taking this test at the Global Rich List.

Amazing, eh? My purpose here is not to elaborate on the theology of money and finances in the Bible, or to make judgment calls on who is rich or who isn't, or to make you feel guilty. My desire is that we would all ponder our financial situation and determine if we have been honest with ourselves in describing the reality of our finances. So maybe the next time you read or study one of these passages you will be willing to ask yourself the tough questions, knowing that Scripture is indeed talking to you.


Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Preach My Sermon!

I had a post last year concerning the practice of providing message transcripts for a fee. Check out this blog entry at Between Two Worlds, highlighting the next evolution in this disturbing trend - encouraging pastors to plagiarize.


Sunday, June 3, 2007

Do As We Say...

This just came off the Associated Press newswire:

Gates warns Turkey not to invade Iraq

SINGAPORE - Defense Secretary Robert Gates on Sunday cautioned Turkey against sending troops into northern Iraq, as it has threatened, to hunt down Kurdish rebels it accuses of carrying out terrorist raids inside Turkey.

"We hope there would not be a unilateral military action across the border into Iraq," Gates told a news conference after meetings here with Asian government officials. Turkey and Iraq were not represented.

Gates said he sympathized with the Turks' concern about cross-border raids by Kurdish rebels.

Yeah. We certainly wouldn't want one country to invade another over terrorism concerns.

Good grief.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Is it hot in here?

Global warming. No good Christian believes in it. I mean, how could they? That would require rubbing shoulders with some shady characters - liberals, environmentalists, tree-huggers, pagans, scientists, and Al Gore. And since we know none of those people are Christians, they must have an ungodly agenda and nothing noteworthy to say. As I allude to in my post about Christians and Republicans, there is an unwritten rule on whom we associate with, and who we don’t, no matter what the situation.

The second reason we don’t believe in global warming is an inherent distrust with the field of science. Science, by its very nature, requires a natural explanation for the world we live in. Things that cannot be explained via hands-on experimentation, or more specifically, the scientific method, are pretty much dismissed. This, of course, is of great concern to those who believe the world is under the control of a Higher Power.

The third reason conservatives struggle with global warming, I believe, is a very strict, and possibly misguided, understanding of our mandate in this world, or at least in American culture. We believe we have a mandate to make our nation Christian again, and to do that requires a set of cultural behaviors to be eliminated or reversed. Issues that do not fall inside this set of mandates are met with suspicion.

A perfect example of this type of thinking is what happened recently within the National Association of Evangelicals, the loosely organized umbrella group for evangelical organizations in the country. 24 prominent evangelicals recently sent a letter to the NEA asking for the resignation of Richard Cizik, the vice president for governmental affairs for the NEA. The letter claims, in part, "Cizik and others are using the global warming controversy to shift the emphasis away from the great moral issues of our time. In their place has come a preoccupation with climate concerns that extend beyond the NAE's mandate and its own statement of purpose."

Notice how the letter paints concern and work in the area of global warming as mutually exclusive with current evangelical initiatives. The unstated implication in the letter, then, is that evangelicals can only be involved in a limited number of issues. And those issues must fall within the narrow scope of traditional evangelical endeavors, otherwise they have no merit.

Now, it’s not as if we’ve used up all the resources available to us evangelicals and conservatives. From where I sit, I don’t see every church-going person being totally tapped out in their efforts to advance God’s kingdom and mandates in our culture. My point being, it’s not an either/or proposition. If God has placed a large burden for the preservation of the environment on the hearts of some Christians (and I would suggest we should all feel that burden to some extent), then we should thank God for their desire to follow through with God’s leading.

Not only that, it seems to me that Cizik’s actions fall completely in line with part of the NEA mandate. I quote from their web page: “We pledge our cooperation to any responsible effort to solve critical environmental problems, and our willingness to support all proven solutions developed by competent authorities. We call upon our constituency to do the same, even at the cost of personal discomfort or inconvenience” However, the mandate also mentions, “…some groups and organizations have reacted with a zeal that has not always been according to knowledge…” The implication here is very clear – evangelical leaders simply do not believe the data currently being postulated by the scientific establishment and reported by the mainstream media.

Now, do they have reason to be cautious? Sure. I certainly am no fan of mainstream media. I believe much of it to be biased, arrogant, and often anti-religious, if not downright wrong. Ditto with the scientific establishment, which has gone out of its way to paint itself as the bastion of truth and knowledge for our society.

But, I personally fail to see how these traditional tensions between Christianity and Science abdicate us of our mandate to protect and shepherd God’s creation. Now, most evangelicals would say I am misrepresenting them, that we obviously do have such a mandate. But often their attitudes (and letters like the one to the NEA) belie their words.

Whether the cause of global warming is the result of our behavior, or is simply due to normal cyclical changes of the earth’s climate over thousands of years, I think the evidence that the climate is changing for the worse is at least worth considering. And herein lies the lynchpin for me. Unlike other areas where we are in conflict with society, such as abortion and homosexuality, the actions we can take to help are not in conflict with God-given instructions, but in my opinion actually may fall right in line with them.

For instance, is it a bad thing to consider gas mileage as a major factor when purchasing a car? Is it really wrong to buy energy-saving light bulbs? Is it wild-eyed liberalism to actually suggest a gas-guzzling 4x4 that is only driven on pavement is a misuse of resources? (Yeah, I just stepped on some toes, didn’t I). Am I out of line with God’s directives if I recycle? Is it inappropriate to suggest drinking milk that isn’t tainted with BST? Would it be bad if I moved closer to my work/church/family to cut down on drive times and increase the opportunity to, say, ride a bicycle or walk (and shed a few pounds in the process)?

I could go on, but I think you see my point. I’m not saying we shouldn’t be cautious when evaluating the claims of secular institutions. And I’m certainly not suggesting we buy into the gloom-and-doom, catastrophic, and bleak future propagated by the media (who always love a good scare story). I’m simply suggesting that global warming is perhaps not an issue that we really need to be “against,” and that helping our earth by some small changes in our daily behaviors fit in nicely with some of the things God asked his children to do in Genesis 1 and 2.

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

Men of Whom the World Was Not Worthy

Sometimes I get sick to my stomach when I realize just how little my faith costs me. This is one of those times.

Men of Whom the World Was Not Worthy

Thursday, April 19, 2007

God wasn't at Virginia Tech

Ok, so I'm driving through a small town near my house on my way home from work. A local business has a big marquee out front with a statement similar to the following:
Our prayers are with the victims in Virginia. Put God back in our schools.
Now, on the surface, both statements sound good, very "Christian", if you will. I mean, no good Christian would argue against either of those statements, right? But why not, I'll take a stab at it.

We can draw a couple conclusions from this seemingly innocuous statement:
1. God is not in our schools
2. The lack of God in our schools had a causal relationship to the massacre.

I have to admit to being a bit confused. I'm no scholar, but I do know a few things about God. But I was completely unaware that God had been removed from our schools. This was news to me, and forced me to ponder tough questions the rest of the way home. Was he absent? Playing hooky? Maybe he just got fed up with the NEA and took his omnipresence and went home. Who knows? But apparently God himself is unable to breach the walls of our school system.

Now, obviously, I understand what the sign meant. It meant that discussion of God, references to God, and most importantly, staff-led prayer to God, has been removed. But that's not what it said. It said God himself needs to be put back in school. "Jerry, you're splitting hairs. Why make a big deal of it when you know what they meant?" Because I think restrictions on prayer or discussions about God in school, and saying God isn't in our schools, are completely different things. But over the years we've gradually blurred the distinction and made them one and the same. And the net effect is for us to think fatalistically, to assume it won't get any better, and to fall back on trite responses to ghastly crimes.

But it's not true! I would suggest to you that God has never left our schools. He is always present and working, and no man-made ordinance, law, effort, or initiative will keep him out. But it's easy to forget that when we keep saying we need to put him back in. Remember, we are his hands and feet, his physical presence on this earth as we expand his kingdom. If it appears that God isn't in the public schools, then maybe it's us that has been absent. Maybe we've all withdrawn and run for cover, leaving the schools to wallow in our absence. How do you think we're going to turn this thing around? By standing afar and taking pot-shots at the system? Is that what we're commanded to do? No. Never. We are to get involved and to expand his kingdom through the tireless efforts of ministering to the lost. And that means going there.

I have a suggestion. See, it's easy to say we need God back in school. It's even easier when we grasp for reasons to try and explain a senseless crime that has no reason, other than as an example of the depths of depravity that can be achieved in our fallen word. Instead, maybe we could get just as worked up about the lack of prayer in our homes. Maybe we could ask why we don't pray more with our spouse, or discuss God more with our kids. Maybe we could start a petition to introduce more prayer in our churches. I think it's silly to be so concerned about prayer in school when we've nearly lost everything in our homes and our churches, the primary place of Christian education for our children.

So let's quit whining about the state of our society and our public schools and do something about it.

Sunday, April 8, 2007

Jars of Clay - The Good, the bad, and the ugly

I've never been a big Jars of Clay fan. Probably for two reasons. First, they are popular. Popular Christian musicians usually rank a bit high on the sappy-meter for me. They all remind me of the old Undercover tune, "You'll have to excuuuse us, we're in love with Jeeesus." It was embarrassing to listen to. (Fortunately for us, Undercover matured and put out some of the best music ever to hit vinyl.) Second, they are too tame. The music was ok, but my ear bends to a more hard-core beat.

That all changed with their most recent release, Good Monsters. Did they finally see the light and go metal? No, its still relatively tame. But there is something different about this release, something darker, a bit more real. Granted, I haven't followed their last few releases, so I don't know if this was a trend, or just this last album. I actually bought the album after listening to a clip of the song Dead Man on Other highlights include Work, and Oh My God, which actually moved me to tears.

So I had to hand it to them for putting out an album that was more open to the struggles and the dark side of the Christian life; more honest. Or so I thought. I happened upon an article in The Argus Leader newspaper, as a preview to their concert in Sioux Falls, SD. The author of the article interviewed lead vocalist Dan Haseltine on some various subjects, some of them a bit controversial.

Haseltine expressed frustration over the Christian fan-base's fickleness, and how quick they are to dump those deemed "unChristian." Apparently it is for this reason that Jars of Clay can't release the war protest songs they have written, and keeps Haseltine from commenting on his political views. "If you rock the boat too much, your records won't appear in certain Christian record stores anymore," he says.

Now that statement struck me as a bit odd. In fact, it raised all sorts of questions in my mind. They feel passionately about something, but refuse to sing about it. Why? Because it will hurt sales. Is that something to be proud of? I don't know. I guess you could look at it from two sides. On one hand, it sounds like they've sold out. Toe the line and don't say anything too controversial - the last thing we want to do is let our fans know how we really feel. Can't afford to lose all those T-shirt sales!

On the other hand, one could give Jars of Clay kudos for taking a big step in that direction anyway, even if they didn't go all the way. Maybe the CCM crowd is so narrow-minded, that it will take groups like Jars of Clay to "baby-step" them into the more insecure and not-so-neat areas of their faith.

I do know my favorite band, Stavescare, couldn't deal with it. The oppressive forces in the Christian music industry simply became too much to bear, and they eventually walked away and never looked back:
I need to find a place where I can breathe
Somewhere high above this empty landscape
Where the air is clear
And I need to find it while I still can.
So, I guess in the end I can't come down too hard on Jars of Clay. I hope they find the courage (guts?) to someday sing what's really on their heart. Because I think what they want to say needs to be said. And I hope Christians are big enough to listen.

Interestingly, the author of the article has this comment: "
And in today's America, being 'Christian' seems to be tied to being a 'patriot.' Basically, if you're an outspoken Christian, you're assumed to be a conservative Republican who backs President Bush without question..." Hmm, sounds like something I'd say. Oh wait, I already did.

Ok, the last three blogs have been about music. Sorry, that wasn't intentional, just how it worked out. Next one will be different, I promise.

God bless.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

When it rains, it pours

My previous post was a small tribute to my favorite band, Stavesacre, as they have decided to call it quits. Today I got an email from my 2nd favorite band of all time, Bride. It said this in part:
"We want to produce one last piece of work from our heart as a final farewell to our friends who have supported us and prayed earnestly for us. Bride is just a name. And it will fade into oblivion but we know the work that we have done has produced eternal rewards for all of those involved."
Good grief. All the bands worth listening to are going away. Let me know if there are any other awesome bands out there that have integrity, haven't sold out, and know how to rock. (Hint: if you can buy their record at Best Buy, don't bother.)

Sunday, March 4, 2007

For shelter from this bitter winter

“The fact of the matter is, Stavesacre as we know it, is done.”

These words were written a few days ago by Dirk Lemmenes, bass guitarist for the best band on the planet. I’m not an overly emotionally guy. I get rather annoyed by all the silly teeny-boppers and whatever trashy, shallow, MTV-created, group-of-the-month band is playing on their iPod. But that wouldn’t be fair. Not completely anyways. Because I understand what it means to identify with a group whose music has changed the very direction of my life. Music that rocks me hard, touches my soul, and makes me desire the bigger things in life. Music that hasn’t sold out. It is rare, this kind of music. It isn’t Christian, per say. It isn’t secular either. It’s just awesome music, sung from the gut, without pretense or show, wrapped in the raw emotion of guys who are trying to figure out how to make their way in this cursed world.

I recall a phrase from one of the deacons at our church. It was said in the context of resolving some disagreements on the “style” of music that was going to be played at our church, but his words fit here. "Music," he said, "is deeply personal. It affects you all the way to your soul. It's not an easy thing to give up something that is such a part of who you are."

It was late 2001, and my marriage was on the rocks. I had quit my successful job to become a full-time assistant pastor; a poster-boy for the “could have made millions but sold out for God” illustrations that everyone loves to hear. But the church was unstable and immature, and we were suffering as a result. Our newly-adopted, mentally handicapped daughter added to the pressure immensely. The fact that we had also moved and birthed our new baby boy the same year put us squarely in the “What were they thinking?” department. (Psychologists tell us that a career change, a new baby, an adoption, and a move, are all among the biggest stress-inducers in any marriage. So, being the smart and forward-thinking people that we were, we decide to tackle all four. In the same year. So, why were we having problems again?)

My wife and I had completely forgotten how to communicate. My 5-year old told my parents that we couldn’t talk about church without arguing (now there’s a good example for a pastor to give his family). I didn’t know where to turn. But God slowly and deliberately started to put people and things in my life to push us in the right direction. I remember two of them distinctly.

The first was the advice of my dear friend Paul, who spent an entire day counseling me and praying over me. God’s grace was manifest in flesh and blood that day, and I have no idea where we would be now were it not for his boldness and wisdom. I thank God for you, Paul.

The second was while driving down I-75 near Detroit on my way to work. I had picked up a Stavesacre CD as a result of a reader’s choice award at HM Magazine. Great music, but I hadn’t really listened to the words yet. But as I was driving, I heard the following lyrics crystallize in my ears through the music:
I watch you bend beneath the waves
And it seems heavier these days
Each time I see you force a smile my heart just breaks
To see you bend beneath the waves

I don't believe this is what God ever intended
I think it's time to go

The sun is going down I say we follow it out of town
We've been here for far too long (but will they know we're gone)
And in the morning when it rises
Maybe it will shine for us
I’m fairly confident the song was not written about a burned-out assistant pastor who was attempting to save his marriage while trying extricate himself from the ugly situation he had put himself into. But you couldn’t have convinced me of it at the time. It hit me like a ton of bricks. I am 100% convinced to this day that God had planted that CD, and that song, in my life at that time, as further evidence of His gentle pushing in the direction that I needed to go.

To make a long story short, I buried my pride, and we followed God’s lead through that dark tunnel out to the other side. And as has been said elsewhere by the same band, “It’s beautiful when you’re out here.”

So you can possibly understand some of the sadness I feel when I read that the band has run its course. I am disappointed that I won’t be able to look forward to any more music from “my” band, other than the promised final CD and farewell tour. I have seen Stavesacre in concert twice, and they were both the best musical nights of my life. No amount of money or logistical dilemmas will prevent me from catching a stop on their farewell tour. I can’t wait.

Thanks for the music, guys, and God bless.

p.s. I don’t like linking in the text of my postings, I feel they are distracting. Yes, I know, it’s the internet. Blah blah blah. Spare me. But I do like to provide the links here in case anyone would like to follow up on references in the article:

Dirk’s post on The Acre forum
HM Magazine

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

The "Welcome Home A Hero" program

So much of the news is a downer these days, especially when it comes to the War in Iraq. So someone decided to do something about it. I'm not a big fan of the network news (yeah, I know, hard to believe), but I have to admit, this is pretty cool:

Welcome Home a Hero


Sunday, February 18, 2007

Republicans, Democrats, and Christians

I've not been inspired to write for quite a while now. Not that it matters. I doubt anyone really reads this blog, so it is mostly just an outlet for my opinions, and the very occasional creativity burst.

But with Congress recently giving Bush a vote of no-confidence on his surge of troops in Iraq, I thought it was time to jot down some thoughts that have been growing in me ever since the beginning of the war. But my opinions on this subject are not popular in the crowd I run with, and some may find them downright unpatriotic, if not downright un-Christian. The ironic thing is, of course, that many believe those two to be the same thing.

See, I've been against this war since the very beginning. The reasons are many, the least of which I think we made a huge mistake by invading a country that had not attacked us to fight a war against a clandestine organization that doesn't play by the rules. Not only is it a recipe for failure, but it removed focus and resources from Afghanistan, where our job still isn't finished. We’ve spent billions and billions of dollars at the expense of our budget, our poor, and our economy. And we’ve squandered a lifetime of goodwill directed toward our country after 9/11.

I really like what David Keene, president of the American Conservative Union said on the subject. “Sure, the average voter is glad Hussein is gone and would be delighted if the Iraqi people opted for democracy, but the man on the street can’t see any reason why Americans should suffer to make Iraq safe for Iraqis. They’re far more interested in hearing how the sacrifices Americans are making there are making the world safer for Americans. And that’s something they haven’t been hearing.” They haven’t been hearing it because it’s not true. We’re not safer, and we won’t be when this thing is done, if that ever happens.

But I think what bothers me the most is that Christians are so quick to support Bush without critically thinking through all the issues. Almost as if we don't we’re automatically supporting the Democrats, or worse, not being very good Christians. It's part of the thought process that so closely links Christianity with Republicans, and the assumption that we were a "Christian" nation, and we need to become one once again. (My thoughts on that are a topic for a different blog).

I’m beginning to think there’s not really that much of a difference between Democrats and Republicans. We want to believe there is, we want to believe we have a real choice, but do we? It’s more like they are two sides of the same coin. Are Republicans more moral? (Can you say, “Foley?”). Are they less greedy? Less unaffected by lobbyists? Do the parties truly have different and distinct plans that are laid clearly laid out, and actually workable?

Take the 2004 elections. Both candidates were white, pro-immigration, pro-war, millionaires, who both went to Yale, and were both members of the same secrete society. Hmm. We are more and more becoming an oligarchy. I’m not sure who I’m going to vote for next election, but I am now certain it won’t be based on party lines.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Sometimes I Miss

"Sometimes I miss." Now, what sort of person might utter a phrase like that - A basketball player? A sharpshooter, perhaps? A 2 year-old boy learning how to hit the toilet? Maybe. But what about a prophet of God? Probably not.

The Bible is pretty clear - if you are God's spokesperson, you speak the truth. There just ain't any getting around it. Jeremiah 28:9 tells us we can know that a prophet has been sent by God if what he says comes to pass.

A week ago Pat Robertson continued his annual tradition of making predictions based on what God told him. This year's big brouhaha? A "mass killing" after September, most likely affecting millions of people. The Lord declined to fill Pat in on the mechanism, so Pat speculates that it might be nuclear.

Now, if Pat is telling everyone on his show, the 700 club, that he is getting "words of knowledge" from God, it would behoove us, given the proclamation of Jeremiah, to double-check Mr. Robertson's previous direct revelations from God.

Robertson said Bush would win his second term in a landslide. Not quite; he barely won with 51% of the vote. He said Bush would pass Social Security reform in 2005. Didn't happen. And in 2006 the can't-miss event of the year was supposed to be serious storms and a possible tsunami hitting the East coast. Well, we had some strong rains and flooding in New England but that was about it. (Pat was quick to point out that the flooding "partly fulfilled" the prophecy; apparently even the Lord tends to get rain and tsunamis confused.)

When asked about the prognostications that fail to materialize Robertson offered this explanation: ""I have a relatively good track record," he said. "Sometimes I miss." Sometimes he misses? Do you realize what he is saying? A self-proclaimed mouthpiece of God telling us that not everything he receives from God comes to pass. That, my friend, leaves us with two options. (1) God is a liar. Or (2) Pat Robertson is a false prophet.

That's not a difficult choice for me to make. I wonder if Pat Robertson has ever read Ezekiel 13? If you haven't I would strongly suggest doing so now. It's a very strong passage, and indictment of God against the prophets who have spoken falsehood. God says, "I am against you." Yikes.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Pearls Before Swine

[The following is from an email sent to my Sunday School class one year ago, when the movie End of the Spear was released]

Has anyone seen End of the Spear yet? I have not yet seen it, though the Christians I have talked to have told me it is an excellent film. Critical reviews seem to be split on whether it is a good movie or not, but even so it is doing fairly well at the box office.

I was intrigued by some of the reviews from the secular press. Non-Christian reviews of Christian movies are always interesting to read, as the reviewer grapples not only with the technical and artistic merits of the film, but the Christian message as well. Traditionally, Christian films have done well with the message, but have an embarrassing track record with the quality-level of the film and/or the actors and actresses. I think the application for an actor in a Christian movie has only two questions:
  1. Are you a Christian?
  2. Have you, or someone you know, ever been involved in a school play?
If you answered "yes" to both, you're in. And even then, there's some leeway with #2.

(In an interesting, side note - numerous conservative and family organizations are now pushing Congress to force cable companies to provide "ala carte" pricing, which would give you the freedom to pick only the cable channels you desire. Not only would you not have to worry about having channels in your home that often contain inappropriate content, but you wouldn't have to subsidize them either. Of course, the cable monopolies are strongly against this move. But they have some very unlikely bedfellows in a large number of Christian networks and Christian broadcasting companies, who also oppose ala carte pricing. I'll leave it as an exercise to the reader to figure out why. Hint: the answer is in the paragraph above.)

Ok, where was I? Oh yes, End of the Spear. Following are some excerpts from some secular reviews:

"Filmmakers don't need stories with a religious agenda any more than they need ones with an irreligious one. They don't need stories with any agenda, frankly. They just need good stories." -- Stephen Whitty, NEWARK STAR-LEDGER

"Although the film invests time among the tribesmen, it never really explores the idea that one man's missionary work is another's ideological aggression. And the movie is tentative, dramatically speaking."
-- Desson Thomson, WASHINGTON POST

"[End of the Spear's] dogmatism comes through as loud and clear as the sinister subtext behind its message of nonviolence—that the world's nonwhite, 'undeveloped' cultures continue to require prophylactic doses of Yank benevolence in order to survive and thrive. -- Mark Holcomb, THE VILLAGE VOICE

If you're like me, you want to lash back. Why is it that everyone in Hollywood is allowed to have an agenda except the Christian? Sure, Mr. Whitty, Michael Moore's films are just good stories. No agenda there. Nope. Puuuhhlease.

And Thomson's insinuation that spreading the Good News might be akin to "ideological aggression" is rather chilling. Persecution against a people rarely just starts out of the blue. It has to be built, stone by stone, brick by brick, and the first step is to demonize the victim.

And finally, if I had the time right now, I would write a letter to Mr. Holcomb and remind him that, yes, the Waodani Indians were in fact on their way to self-induced extinction due to the killing and violence that permeated their society. But it wasn't "Yank benevolence" that saved them, it was the life-changing message of Jesus Christ (I'm starting to wonder if he actually even saw the movie).

But, this is the easy way out. It is a traditional Christian response to play the victim. "Oh, poor us. Society is giving us a bad rap. No one loves us. What are we to do? Boo hoo." I've got three letters for you: D.U.H. 1 John 3:13 tells us to not be surprised if the world hates us. So why do we always act so surprised?

I want to suggest to you a different reaction to reviews like this: Joy. "Joy" you say? Yes. Let's step back and take a look what we have here. An independent Christian film with a decent budget and half-way decent actors, gets released on the big screen and finishes in the Top 10 in it's opening weekend. This is awesome! Don't forget that a strong negative reaction can be just as big a sign that we are doing something right as a big positive reaction. They didn't crucify Jesus for doing and saying what made sense to everyone. So we can't expect films like The Passion or End of the Spear to make sense to everyone either. Enemies of the cross will hate it. Satan doesn't like it when we start to encroach on his turf. It's one thing when obnoxious little Christian films are released straight to video to be shown only in churches during a New Year's eve service. But its a whole different ball of wax when the Message starts to go mainstream.

In Matthew 21:23-27 we have a great story of a confrontation between Jesus and the religious leaders of the day. Jesus is walking around the temple, acting like he owns the place. The "elders" are rather annoyed, to say the least. Their question to Jesus was: "By what authority are You doing these things, and who gave You this authority?" Do you notice a parallel between the their line of questioning and the reviews listed above? Yes! Both of them basically say, "Just who do you think you are? What gives you the right to tell other people that you have the WAY?" I love it. It means we are on the right track.

Most Christians bemoan the fact that we are no longer a "Christian" nation (if we ever were one to begin with). I don't. The divorce of the church and politics allows us to focus once again on what it truly means to be the church. We can spend less time trying to force Christian-like behavior via the law, and more time telling the stories of Jesus Christ, the stories by which the Holy Spirit will draw people to Himself and change their heart. Which of course leads to a true change in behavior.

So, if you've stuck with me so far, what is the point of this entire rant? In the words of N.T. Wright's commentary on the Matthew passage: "What we should also be asking is this. What should Jesus' followers be doing today that would challenge the powers of the present world with the news that he is indeed its rightful Lord? What should we be doing that would make people ask, 'By what right are you doing that?'"

Sounds like we are already starting to do that. But we are just barely scratching the surface. Take some time to ponder those questions, as it relates to both yourself and [your] church.